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OP2354 Exploring the health and environmental drivers of coral reef bright spots

   Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences

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  Dr H East  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that provide key societal benefits to millions of people living in tropical coastal communities (Costanza et al., 2014, Glob. Env. Change). However, reefs around the world are experiencing rapid degradation due to direct (e.g. pollution, coastal development) and indirect (e.g. rising ocean temperatures, sea-level rise) threats. Despite this global trend of rapid decline, some coral reefs, termed ‘bright spots’ or ‘oases’, appear to be faring much better than expected given the environmental and socioeconomic conditions that they are exposed to (Cinner et al., 2016, Nature; Guest et al., 2018, J. App. Ecol.).

Understanding the drivers that enable some reef systems to act, and remain, as ‘bright spots’ is important to improve both predictions of reef resilience to future environmental change, and knowledge of how to best conserve reef environments. This PhD project will make exciting contributions to our knowledge of reef ‘bright spots’ by investigating the reefs of Tela Bay, Honduras, which may be among the healthiest coral reefs of the Caribbean with live hard coral cover of >60% (Bodmer et al., 2021, Scientific Reports).

The student will explore the links between the current ecology, geomorphology and future reef growth trajectories of Tela Bay’s reefs. The project will also involve collection of environmental data to explore the drivers of coral assemblage organisation. Finally, it seems unlikely that the reefs of Tela are the only ‘bright spot’ in the region and so you will use environmental data to explore the potential for other ‘bright spots’ to be located on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The student will, therefore, gain skills in ecological habitat mapping, reef carbonate budget surveys, and analyses of environmental data. This project will require fieldwork in collaboration with Operation Wallacea (as CASE partner) at their marine site in Honduras.

Key Research Gaps and Questions:

  1. To what extent do Tela’s reefs represent an ecological ‘bright spot’?
  2. What are the key environmental drivers controlling contemporary reef ecology at Tela?
  3. What are the future reef growth trajorities of coral reefs at Tela?
  4. Are there other locations on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System where coral reef ‘bright spots’ may be found?



(i) a keen interest in undertaking fieldwork in remote tropical marine environments; and (ii) experience of SCUBA diving or an eagerness to learn.


a good knowledge of geomorphology and/or ecology. For more information, please contact Dr Holly East ([Email Address Removed])

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