CDTS302: Developing approaches for kelp forest restoration to futureproof UK marine biodiversity

   Cell and Molecular Biology Department

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  Dr Dan Smale, Dr Emma Sheehan  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Kelp forests are distributed across one-third of the world’s coastlines, where they support high levels of biodiversity and primary productivity and underpin vital coastal ecosystems. The UK and Ireland represents an important area for kelps, with 7 different species found along ~19,000 km of the UK’s coastline and predicted to inhabit an area comparable to broadleaf forests on land. Kelp forests are in decline in many regions, and are vulnerable in the UK to stress factors such as overgrazing, coastal pollution, ocean warming, disease, and fishing activities. These forests support vital important ecosystem services, including fisheries habitats, biogenic coastal protection, nutrient cycling and carbon uptake. Losses or shifts in the structure of kelp forests could have significant consequences for marine ecosystems and the services they provide to coastal communities. While much research has focussed on techniques to restore and futureproof coral, mangrove and seagrass habitats, far less attention has been given to kelp forests, despite their huge ecological and socioeconomic importance.

Aims and objectives

The ultimate goal of this project is advance our understanding of active kelp restoration methods and to help futureproof kelp forests in the UK. Specifically, the project will develop, test and refine methods for costeffectively cultivating kelp species in the laboratory and seeding them onto a range of substrates. Experimental substrates will then be out-planted at trial sites and monitored over time to evaluate the efficacy of the restoration approach. The work will also examine the social/economic benefits and challenges of kelp restoration and translate the findings to facilitate policy and decision making. Specific research activities to address the overarching aim could include:

  1. Refine and experimentally test methods to optimise cultivation, seeding and early grow-out for different kelp species. 
  2. Outplant and monitor seeded substrate at experimental test sites. 
  3. Compare the ecological structure and functioning of restored areas with natural kelp beds and unvegetated, unrestored areas. 
  4. Explore socioeconomic benefits and barriers to kelp restoration.

This project will operate at the interface between fundamental biology/ecology and applied research, with significant input from non-academic partners from industry and NGOs.


In addition to opportunities through the CDT, the successful candidate will receive training in kelp biology and cultivation, sampling and survey techniques, social science methods, and statistical approaches. There will be opportunities to engage with the industry and NGO partners. 

Project structure

Following an initial period of training and planning, laboratory-based cultivation trials will be conducted, followed by out-planting and monitoring of seeded substrate at experimental test sites. Fieldwork will be interspersed with periods of sample processing and analysis, data exploration, and synthesis of existing information on socioeconomic benefits and impacts of kelp restoration. It is anticipated that the project will lead to several high quality scientific outputs as well as the development of tools to assist with decision-making, thereby having significant impact. 

The project will be supervised by Dr Dan Smale (MBA), Dr Emma Sheehan (UoP) and Dr Tomas Chaigneau (UoE), with significant input from non-academic partners (Fishmongers Company and Seaweed Generation).


Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree in an appropriate subject and either a relevant masters qualification or a wider range of experience in a relevant career path (which is equally as important).

Each applicant may apply for a studentship on up to three CDT SuMMeR projects. Where more than one project is applied for, the supervisors of all those projects will be made aware that other applications have been made.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and 8 months. All UKRI-funded PhD students (UK, EU, International) will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs (£18,622 per academic year at full time equivalent at the 2023/24 rate), and fees at the research organisation’s UK rate. International students are eligible for UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships but UKRI will limit the proportion of international students appointed each year through individual doctoral training programmes to 30% of the intake per cohort. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover international fees set by universities; applicants normally required to pay international fees may have to cover the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum). Please enquire with the lead supervisor on the situation regarding international fees for the project you are interested in. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover costs associated with visa application or health surcharges, or additional costs associated with entry to, and living in, the UK. For EU and international eligibility for UKRI studentships, see UKRI’s guidance.

In case of uncertainty, applicants should contact the planned university of registration for eligibility advice, or the CDT SuMMeR Programme Office: [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17)

Funding Notes

CDT SuMMeR studentships are partially funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which applies the eligibility criteria laid down by its parent body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and co-funded by the respective Hosting Partner institutes. UKRI provides details on its training grants in its Terms and Conditions for Training Funding document, including its Training Grant Guide, which can be found on the UKRI website.
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