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Assessing sustainability of coral reef ornamental fisheries under different management scenarios

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Josie South, Prof Maria Beger  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Many species of wild marine ornamental fish and invertebrates are collected from tropical coral reefs to supply the international marine aquarium trade. Currently, an estimated 2300 species of fish and 725 species of invertebrates are traded, with most of the supply originating from the Indo-Pacific region and destined for final sale in the United States or Europe. Tropical marine fisheries are highly biodiverse, but lack the underlying data needed to develop effective management protocols called for in national and international policy. The ornamental fisheries provide important livelihood provisioning to local communities in source countries, and their monetary (~$20 bn /year) and inherent value can be used as an incentive to protect local reef ecosystems.

This exciting PhD opportunity will build and develop assessment methods for the status of tropical ornamental fisheries that promote sustainable harvesting of reef fishes to benefit both biodiversity and the socio-economic systems that rely on them. This work will be completed using pre-existing life history parameters instead of size spectra, due to preferential targeting of small and juvenile fish skewing population demographics, and published range data. In addition, the student will complete field work at a case study field location in Indonesia where estimates of catch (e.g., fishers’ receipts and invoices of fish collected) are available. Modelling approaches to predict the future sustainability of fisheries under different management scenarios will also be developed. The PhD will contribute to better understanding of the population status and sustainability of marine ornamental fisheries. 

This is an outstanding opportunity to make tangible impact in conservation by combining fisheries science and conservation while benefitting from mentoring by academic, industry and policy scientists. The candidate will be highly curious and motivated, a good communicator, and technically capable. Skills developed in this project are highly desirable across multiple industries. 

Aims & Objectives:

This project will provide an assessment of coral reef ornamental populations and fisheries under current and future harvest and management scenarios. 

The objectives are:

  1. Use existing literature on life history parameters of small reef fish to develop species specific harvest sensitivity assessment methods (i.e., productivity susceptibility analysis) for the most commonly exploited marine ornamental species 
  2. Use catch data (e.g., fisher receipts/records) and visual census survey data from the study region to test the developed assessment methods 
  3. Use new harvest sensitivity assessment methods to assess current and predict future sustainability of the marine ornamental trade under different management scenarios. 


Ornamental fisheries is estimated to have a global value of $ 15-20 billion a year. There are increasing calls to regulate and restrict the trade in wild caught fish through mechanisms such as CITES, trade bans and local fisheries management measures. Given that wild capture fish can provide environmentally low-impact, sustainable livelihoods in source countries, often Small Island Developing States and Less Economically Developed Countries understanding the current sustainability is high importance for evidence-based policy making. Current data on volumes of take for the trade in marine ornamental fish species often lacks resolution (in the form of trade data) or is limited spatially or by the species examined (e.g. impact assessment of Hawaiian fishery). This studentship will gather evidence on the sensitivity of marine ornamental fish to harvest, estimated volumes of take, and develop broadly applicable potential future management strategies to support future policy making that will have profound effects on both people and wildlife. The work will have broad appeal for conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and international policy. 


You will benefit from expertise within the School of Biology at the University of Leeds. You will gain valuable experience in developing research that can support policy making by both national and international bodies. You will also have access to training workshops that cover technical and broader professional development skills and you will present your research at international scientific conferences.

You will also benefit from partnerships from three case partners. Visits and exchange stay with the CASE partners offices to engage with local collaborating NGO scientists and managers are part of the project. You will be embedded in the CEFAS PhD network and attend the annual CEFAS student conference.

For specific details about the project please contact Dr Josie South [Email Address Removed]

Eligibility and How to Apply:

For more details about this project and how to apply please go to 

The NERC Panorama DTP are hosting ‘Demystifying the PhD application process’ webinars on the 9th and 12th December – sign up now!

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

Equal Opportunities:

Within the NERC Panorama DTP, we are dedicated to diversifying our community. As part of our ongoing work to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within our PhD funding programme, we particularly encourage applications from the following identified underrepresented groups: UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, and disabled people. To support candidates from these groups, we are ringfencing interviews, providing 1-2-1 support from our EDI Officer (contact Dr. Katya Moncrieff - [Email Address Removed]) and hosting a bespoke webinar to demystify the application process. Candidates will always be selected based on merit and ability within an inclusive and fair recruitment process.

Funding Notes

This project is available as part of the NERC Panorama DTP, and is a fully funded studentship covering the full cost of University fees plus Maintenance of £17,668 (2022/23 rate) per year for 3.5 years, and a generous research training and support grant (RTSG). Applications are open to both home and international applicants, please note the number of fully funded awards open for international applicants is limited by UKRI. This CASE project is in association with CEFAS, OATA and Waltham Petcare Science Institute.

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