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Mapping the cumulative effects of human activities on marine mammals in UK waters: informing management, planning and conservation efforts

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, May 05, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

As human populations continue to grow in coastal areas, their use of, and impact on, marine ecosystems and species are also increasing. Cumulative effects – where multiple stressors originating from various human activities overlap, leading to potentially compounded effects – and how to assess them are now a well-recognised issue in marine systems. Although our current understanding is relatively rudimentary, this is a quickly advancing field of research. Mapping potential cumulative effects relies on spatial data related to human activities on, or affecting, the ocean, the increased availability and quality of which have rapidly improved our understanding of where cumulative impacts may occur for some areas. However, we still lack spatially explicit assessments of cumulative effects on ecologically and economically key ecosystem components such as marine mammals. High level predators such as marine mammals can serve as indicators of ecosystem health and have been identified as key elements of spatial management such as marine protected area design and systematic conservation planning. Fundamental to such approaches is an understanding of both the distribution and habitat use of marine mammals and the spatial extent of the cumulative impacts from multiple stressors on these species.

Therefore, cumulative effects assessments have great potential to inform conservation planning and ecosystem-based management. Yet to date such mapping efforts are largely limited to small snap-shots and little has been done to evaluate how current UK assessments of cumulative effects align with science. In addition, few attempts have been made to explore how mapping tools can be better utilised to help improve cumulative effects assessments for marine mammals or how cumulative effects maps can be better integrated and effective within marine planning frameworks.

This PhD project will focus on mapping and assessing cumulative impacts (e.g. noise, strike, entanglement) to marine mammals in three different regions of the UK. The student will also explore how cumulative effects assessments are conducted in Scotland, Wales and England (and further afield) and identify differences in how variables such as baseline, scale and significance are determined. Through this work they will aim to identify opportunities for managers, policy makers, practitioners and scientists to improve environmental assessments and further our understanding of how cumulative effects approaches be better integrated within marine plans. The student will gain knowledge and skills related to handling, analysing and assessing a variety of large spatial datasets as well as the opportunity to work and engage with an assortment of stakeholders and managers.

The PhD student will be based in the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences. The Institutes focus in research and teaching is “Sustainable and resilient communities in the face of multiple stressors, combined with climate change”. The supervisory team is made up of marine geographers, ecologists and biologists from the University of Heriot-Watt as well as scientists from Natural Resources Wales, Natural England, Marine Scotland Science and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. The successful candidate will have the potential to gain experience working with any/all of these institutions and agencies during their PhD. The student will also be required to conduct periodic stakeholder meetings and attend national and international research conferences and project meetings.

Applicants should have a good first-class or 2(i) honours degree, plus Masters (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Applicants must be highly motivated with a geography, GIS, marine biology or ecology background. Applicants with an interest in advanced marine management, geospatial analysis and cetacean conservation are particularly encouraged to apply. Scholarships will be awarded by competitive merit, taking into account the academic ability of the applicant. Applicants must be available to start the course of study in September 2020.

To apply you must complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Applied Geoscience and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor on your application form. In the section for project proposal, upload a supporting statement documenting your reasons for applying to this particular PhD, and why you are an ideal candidate for the position. You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts, and one academic reference. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Funding Notes

This is a full scholarship, which will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of £15,009 for the 36-month duration of the project. Funding is available to UK, EU and International students.

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