At the heart of the NIRES Marine theme's foci on Environmental Systems and Governance, our marine ecosystems research is exceptionally wide ranging. It includes research on coral reefs, hydrothermal events, food webs and biodiversity in the North Sea, and mega-fauna (sharks and marine mammals) in the western Indian Ocean. Understanding human-ecosystem interactions is equally important. Our well-funded work on marine protected areas (MPAs), coral reef ecosystems and application of stable isotopes to food-web dynamics has been very highly cited by the international scientific community. The MPA science has significantly impacted policy in the UK, while the East African marine mammal research has built capacity for conservation and impacted fisheries and tourism policy in Tanzania. Incomplete datasets are compromising our ability to achieve a comprehensive understanding of ecosystem function. Increasingly, professional scientists and government agencies are looking at the potential for Citizen Science programmes to encourage active participation, greater stewardship and positively contribute to our data deficit.
Coral reef ecology is a major focus, particularly predator-prey interactions, and impacts of reef fishing and climate-driven coral loss on reef ecosystems. We took an early lead in applying stable isotopes to elucidation of food web structure of shallow temperate and deep-sea environments. Major projects under way include studies of: relationships between coral reef biodiversity and habitat structural complexity in the Caribbean and the governance supporting improved management (‘FORCE’, European Commission FP7 funding); deep-sea hydrothermal vent and seep food webs in the Southern Ocean (‘CHESSO’); fisheries extinctions in the Philippines (Darwin Initiative); and marine biodiversity and governance in UK Caribbean overseas Territories (DEFRA). There has been a recent growth in North Sea research, a series of small conservation science projects on methods of quantifying fish and shellfish abundances, assessing biodiversity of mobile species, monitoring the condition of benthic habitats, understanding effects of prohibited trawl areas on fishery-target species and sustainability of nephrops fishing, and assessment of noise impact on marine mammals during construction of offshore wind farms. Both local and international work explores societal perception of focal ecosystems, and marine resource needs of dependent communities. Novel methods for ecosystem management and governance studies are being successfully developed, including pioneering social network and futures analyses (EC FP7, DEFRA). In this era of climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction, evidence that can distinguish anthropogenic impact from natural fluctuations in marine populations is essential; long-term datasets are proving invaluable for this. Our research with the Dove Time Series has demonstrated significant decadal changes in community composition.
Our research students are very important to our efforts with substantial studies underway on lobster abundance and movement (School and MMO funded), crab growth and stock assessment (NERC CASE), remote and diver-based methodologies for measuring temporal changes in reefs (RTG), large-scale drivers of parrotfish abundance (DIKTI, Indonesia), seabed impacts of pot fishing (Natural England), impacts of biomass removal (gleaning) from European Marine Sites (Natural England), MPA science and policy development in the UK (NERC-ESRC), marine environmental management in the Niger Delta (Nigerian Government), sea cucumber biology and aquaculture (BBSRC CASE), deep-sea food webs (NERC), coral reef habitat spatial variation and effects on fish (FSBI), novel object based satellite image analysis for change detection and ecosystem service monitoring on UKCOTs coral reefs (NERC-CASE), mitigation of dolphin fisheries bycatch (GEF/SW Indian Ocean Fisheries Project), assessment of sharks in Zanzibar fisheries (Zanzibar Ministry of Livestock & Fisheries), ecological and anthropogenic factors affecting dolphin distribution (National Geographic Society), piracy in the Gulf (Kuwait Government), MPA governance in S Thailand (NERC-ESRC).
We pride ourselves on the links we have between social and natural science approaches to understanding marine ecosystems. Within our theme, we lead the NIRES Marine Newcastle foci on Environmental Systems and Governance, while having significant links to marine resource management decision making and policy (DEFRA, Marine Scotland Science Advisory Board, Northumberland and North Eastern IFCAs).