University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes

Assessing the ecological value of, and threats to marine protected areas in the Isles of Scilly. Biosciences PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded)

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Dr K Metcalfe , Dr A Broderick Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Background:

Marine protected areas (MPAs) can produce a wide range of ecological, economic, and social benefits, which underpin goods and services critical to the wellbeing of millions of people; thereby making them a cornerstone of most marine conservation and fisheries management strategies. These benefits, however, can only accrue if MPAs are well designed, and anthropogenic pressures such as fisheries harvest, recreational, and other maritime activities are effectively managed[1-3]. Given the limited resources available to many management agencies it is essential that we design and implement cost-effective monitoring strategies that can be used to develop evidence-based recommendations that underpin future conservation and management strategies. This PhD will explore several of these key issues in the Isles of Scilly, UK; providing an opportunity to focus on a small number of MPAs in a limited geographical area in which to investigate how marine populations and communities respond to different levels of anthropogenic pressure, as well as the ecological and governance characteristics of MPAs.

Project Aims and Methods:

The specifics of the research will be developed with the student, but will centre around four main aims:

1. Develop a cost-effective long-term monitoring strategy to characterise the spatial distribution of marine biodiversity including habitats and indicator species, through remote sensing, citizen science data, and in-water surveys (e.g. baited remote underwater videos - BRUVs).

2. Map the fine-scale spatiotemporal patterns of activity for ocean user-groups using a combination of vessel monitoring systems for commercial fisheries and shipping, and participatory mapping and GPS trackers for inshore fisheries, tourism and recreational activities[4].

3. Quantify anthropogenic impact and ecological pressures on marine biodiversity and how that varies within and outside marine protected areas through a combination of oceanographic modelling, cumulative impact mapping[5], and fisheries surveys using landings or observer data to map fishing effort (CPUE) and assess the ecological impact of fisheries.

4. Explore the relationship between anthropogenic influence, and ecological and governance characteristics on ecosystem outcomes, both within and outside marine protected areas to identify implications on community composition, biomass, diversity, and abundance.

Candidate requirements:

Applicants should have an undergraduate degree 2:1 level or above, or MSc qualification relevant to conservation science; and a strong interest in interdisciplinary research and marine spatial ecology. Experience of working on boats, and conducting marine surveys would be highly valued.

CASE Partner:

As a CASE studentship that involves working closely with the Isles of Scilly Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency the student will develop new skills in quantitative marine ecology (e.g. experimental design, underwater survey techniques, behavioural ecology, habitat mapping) and project management.

Collaborative Partner:

As the PhD studentship involves working with Natural England who are responsible for monitoring of protected habitats and species the student will gain applied experience of working with decision makers to translate research outputs into recommendations.


The student will be part of Exeter Marine, an outstanding research group with a thriving community of PhD and Postdoctoral researchers from around the world. As the project involves supervisors from several partner organisations the student will have the opportunity to develop a broad interdisciplinary knowledge base, encompassing conservation science, marine spatial ecology, and social sciences; with specialist training provided in processing and visualising large spatial datasets, statistical ecology and modelling, marine ecological surveying, remote sensing and species distribution modelling. Graduate research students are well supported, with skills training provided through the Researcher Development Programme, with funding allocated to support career development, including conferences.

Useful Links:
For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via or

Prospective applicants:
For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via .

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2021 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21.


Background reading and references:

[1] Ban, et al Social and ecological effectiveness of large marine protected areas. Global Environ Chang 2017; 43:82-91. [2] Gill, et al Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally. Nature 2017; 543:665-669. [3] Metcalfe, et al Evaluating conservation and fisheries management strategies by linking spatial prioritisation software and ecosystem and fisheries modelling tools. J Appl Ecol 2015; 52:665-674. [4] Metcalfe, et al Addressing uncertainty in marine resource management; combining community engagement and tracking technology to characterise human behaviour. Conserv Lett 2017; 10:460-469. [5] Maxwell, et al Cumulative human impacts on marine predators. Nat Commun 2013; 4:2688.

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