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Ocean Soundscapes in a Changing World

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Steve Simpson, Prof Andy Radford  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The oceans are full of sound, with a vast array of intentional (e.g., communication) and incidental (e.g., feeding) sounds produced by marine mammals, fish and invertebrates, as well as an increasing contribution of noise emanating from human activities. Soundscapes influence behaviour of reef organisms at key moments in their life (e.g., selecting habitat, mate choice and courtship, avoiding predators), but habitat loss and noise pollution can disrupt behaviour with direct fitness consequences. Ocean soundscapes offer new ways to map, monitor and restore marine ecosystems. Since most sounds on coral reefs are produced by the resident community, classifying the soundscape (e.g., phonic richness, density of sound producers) provides insight into reef health and community structure (including assessment of cryptic and nocturnal species usually missed by visual census), long-term acoustic monitoring allows us to track habitat degradation and recovery, and adding sound in degraded habitats can accelerate recovery. This is a field still in its infancy, with great opportunity for major breakthroughs in acoustic classification and attribution of biological sources of sound, biodiversity monitoring and mapping, automated acoustic analyses, restoration through acoustic enrichment, and delivery of new scientific knowledge into environmental policy, marine management, public understanding and natural history films.

Project Aims and Methods: This project offers a wide range of opportunities that will be developed in detail with the successful candidate, taking into consideration the most promising research directions, student interests and background, and fieldwork and media opportunities. Four potential aims include:

1. Using acoustics to track community development on restoration reefs at Lizard Island. This will involve taking long-term acoustic recordings, video capture and diver/snorkeler census.

2. Developing ecoacoustics tools for measuring ecosystem health, monitoring habitat degradation and accelerating recovery around the world. This could include a strong citizen science element.

3. Establishing hardware, software and collaborative networks for long-term monitoring of ocean health in sensitive marine ecosystems (e.g., coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, kelp forests).

4. Designing multi-sensor systems to increase spatial understanding of marine soundscapes, working alongside natural-history filmmakers to enrich the viewer’s experience of the oceans.

Candidate requirements: The student will have a strong track record in one or more of the following disciplines: marine biology, behavioural ecology, bioacoustics, computer science. We welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups. We value a diverse research environment.

Project partners: The student will train with Prof. Steve Simpson and Prof. Andy Radford (University of Bristol) in marine biology and behavioural ecology, join Dr Mark Meekan & Dr Miles Parsons (Australian Institute of Marine Science) on the Great Barrier Reef ReefSong restoration project, develop GIS skills with Dr Matt Witt (University of Exeter) and acoustic soundscape modelling with Dr Nathan Merchant (Cefas).

Training: This project offers the opportunity for the student to train to PADI Divemaster, undertake accredited powerboat training and expedition first aid training. The student will be supported to undertake structured acoustics training, and receive formal and ongoing training in experimental design, statistics, GIS, scientific writing, science communication, media relations and public engagement.

Funding Notes

The application deadline is Monday 9 January 2023 at 2359 GMT.
Interviews will take place during the period 22 February – 8 March 2023.
Fully funded studentship including the tuition fee. Start in September 2023.
More information on the NERC studentship, can be found at: To submit an application, go to:


Duarte et al. (2021) The soundscape of the Anthropocene ocean. Science 371:eaba4658.
Gordon et al. (2018) Habitat degradation negatively affects auditory settlement behavior of coral reef fishes.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 115:5193–5198.
Gordon et al. (2019) Soundscape restoration enhances fish community development on degraded coral-reef habitat.
Nature Communications 10:5414. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13186-2
Lamont et al. (2021) The sound of recovery: coral reef restoration success is detectable in the soundscape. Journal of
Applied Ecology
Simpson et al. (2016) Anthropogenic noise increases mortality by predation. Nature Communications 7:10544.

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