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Assessing the impact of small-scale fisheries on sea turtle populations in the Eastern Mediterranean

Project Description

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

Project details

Fisheries are a major threat to marine turtles in the Mediterranean; an estimated 44,000 turtles die as a result of being incidentally caught each year [1], with around 5000 caught in Cyprus each year [2]. Cyprus is important both as a breeding area and a foraging site for loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and green (Chelonia mydas) turtles [2–4]. Mitigating this threat requires an understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of turtles and detailed knowledge of the behaviour of fishers [5]. Working with the Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT), the student will assess the levels of bycatch of sea turtles in polyvalent fisheries of Northern Cyprus and will direct the implementation of mitigation trials using a range of methods to reduce this threat. Using remote sensing data the student will also map benthic marine habitat types to better understand sea turtle distribution and bycatch hotspots through predictive modelling.

Project Aims and Methods

The project will be based in Cyprus and have the following main aims:
1. To quantify the bycatch of marine turtles in N.Cyprus by species and gear type
2. To quantify and map fishing effort in nearshore coastal waters
3. To map inwater presence of marine turtles and their preferred habitats
4. To implement and monitor bycatch mitigation technologies


To understand bycatch, beaches will be monitored for stranded turtles, onboard observations will be conducted on fishing vessels and fishers will self-monitor their bycatch according to standardised protocols established by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Vessels will be tracked by VMS to provide activity/effort data with which to extrapolate according to observed bycatch rates and also to better understand spatial and temporal fishing trends.

A combination of boat-based, UAV and in water surveys will be conducted to assess species distribution, abundance. Remote sensing, satellite imagery, UAV imagery and in-water surveys will be used to identify and assess the quality of foraging habitats and produce habitat suitability models for key species. Under these broad aims there are flexibilities within the project to allow for student involvement in project design or choice of research direction.


At their first official meeting with supervisors an assessment is made of skills required for the project, and a plan to achieve the necessary training made. Students are also expected to complete at least four days of additional generic skills training a year through the Researcher Development Programme and attend a series of bespoke courses run for postgraduate research students.

The student will be also be trained in the specialised skills required for this research project including ecological surveying, both in-water and on nesting beaches, remote sensing of habitats and habitat suitability modelling, social surveying techniques and analyses. The student will receive training in Cyprus in onboard observation including health and safety at sea, RA, maintaining relationships with fishers, identification and handling of vulnerable taxa including seabirds, marine mammals, elasmobranchs and sea turtles.

Funding Notes

“NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2019 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,777 per annum for 2018-19.


Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.”


References: font size may be reduced to provide additional space elsewhere
1. Casale P. Sea turtle by-catch in the Mediterranean. Fish Fish. 2011;12: 299–316.
2. Snape RT, Broderick AC, Çiçek BA, Fuller WJ, Glen F, Stokes K, et al. Shelf life: neritic habitat use of a turtle population highly threatened by fisherie. Divers Distrib. 2016;22: 797–807.
3. Stokes KL, Broderick AC, Canbolat AF, Candan O, Fuller WJ, Glen F, et al. Migratory corridors and foraging hotspots: critical habitats identified for Mediterranean green turtles. Divers Distrib. 2015; 21: 665–674
4. Snape RTE, Beton D, Broderick AC, Çiçek BA, Fuller WJ, Özden Ö, et al. Strand monitoring and anthropological surveys provide insight into marine turtle bycatch in small-scale fisheries of the eastern Mediterranean. Chelonian. Cons. Biol. 2013;12: 44–55.
5. Wallace BP, Kot CY, Dimatteo AD, Lee T, Crowder LB, Lewison RL. Impacts of fisheries bycatch on marine turtle populations worldwide: Toward conservation and research priorities. Ecosphere. 2013;4: 1–49.

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