Dr Ruth Callaway
In ‘Changing Coasts’ the Creativity Fellow will have the opportunity to engage with cutting-edge marine and coastal research at Swansea University. Think ‘Blue Planet’ at home - so probably a little less blue than the coral-reef waters of the Caribbean, but still, perhaps surprisingly, with reefs! Put on a pair of Wellington boots and walk out at low water into Swansea Bay and you’ll discover amazing sand-tube reefs created by the honeycomb worm, a protected species all around Europe.
I will introduce the Creativity Fellow to our varied coastal environment, easily accessible on foot due to the massive tidal range which exposes large parts of the seafloor for a few hours each day. The Creativity Fellow will learn how to read traces in wet sand and where to pick the best cockles and mussels in the historic cockle beds of the Gower coast.
My research is extremely varied. The university has recently acquired a new research boat, the RV Mary Anning and the Creativity Fellow would have the opportunity to be one of the first people on board. We may map the seafloor or scan the water for fish, or take samples from the seafloor to analyse properties of the sand, or identify microscopic creatures living in and on the seafloor. We also use the boat as an observation platform for seabirds or mammals.
My research is mostly linked to the needs of industries with links to the sea, such as ports or marine renewable energy companies. For that reason I have to be flexible and respond to demand. I am currently involved in a project which assesses all ports in South Wales for invasive species, meaning visiting some of the most industrial areas in Wales, such as Port Talbot. On the flip side we also run an experiment in Freshwater West, one of the most pristine waters along the Welsh coast.
Much of our research requires laboratory analysis. This can be as mundane as drying and sieving sand, but can also be remarkably sophisticated such as extracting DNA from small samples of tissue. My particular expertise is the identification of marine invertebrates within groups of species of which most people will have never heard. I will introduce the Creativity Fellow to this world of tiny creatures with the most amazing shapes and life-forms.
All my results will eventually be translated into numbers and analysed by statistical testing. This may not appear particularly appealing at first sight, but this process also presents an opportunity to engage with the concept and ideas of converting the natural environment into abstract quantities.
While I am principally a natural scientist, I am increasingly interested in social sciences and the arts. Natural scientific knowledge is not enough. The ongoing climate change debate has proved that scientific evidence is not triggering the societal changes necessary to combat engrained behaviour. Across the year of our collaboration the Creativity Fellow will have the opportunity to create work that will engage and contribute to this urgently necessary interdisciplinary dialogue.