Today is World Oceans Day. DJ Chris Evans announced on 6 June 2018 that the word of the year (derived from BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words children’s writing competition) is ‘plastic’. From the iconic image of the seahorse clinging to a cotton bud, to Blue Planet II, the plastic pollution of the world’s oceans has never been far from our thoughts.
World Oceans Day
Swansea University’s research and teaching are equipping future generations to help solve the problems that the world’s oceans are currently facing. Our Biosciences Department has been at the forefront of research to improve ‘Life Below Water’, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.
We have a Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research, which is running a number of projects, including: researching the degradation of microplastics in the ocean; using lumpfish for the biological control of parasitic sea-lice in salmon farming; developing sustainable aquaculture; developing an integrated supply and processing pipeline for sustainable manufacture of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from seaweed.
Using natural products to replace microbeads
Chiara Bertelli is working with a seafood company in Wales to research the use of ground whelk shells in cosmetics instead of microbeads, which have such a devastating effect on the aquatic food chain. The whelk shells are a waste by-product for the company and the ground up shells wouldn’t pollute the ocean, being naturally found there. View more here.
Conservation of seagrass meadows
The University has been instrumental in promoting the conservation of seagrass meadows. Dr Richard Unsworth’s charity, Project Seagrass, advised the Blue Planet II series about these life-giving, oxygen-producing, beautiful marine habitats. They feature in the ‘Green Seas’ episode. Richard and two of his students set up the environmental charity to conserve seagrass through education, influence, research and action.
Turtles lead to new seagrass discovery
Dr Nicole Esteban’s research identifies and maps vast seagrass meadows associated with coral reef atolls in the Western Indian Ocean using the latest satellite tracking technology (Fastloc-GPS) and remote underwater video surveys. Recent tracking of green turtles led to the Biosciences Department discovering a previously undiscovered extensive deep-water seagrass meadows in the Indian Ocean.
We’re also looking at how climate change effects animals in marine habitats. Reptiles and some fish have temperature dependent sex determination, which means that a warmer marine environment will lead to skewed sex ratios. For example, warmer incubation conditions for sea turtle nests leads to a greater number of female sea turtles. Research has documented that many sea turtle rookeries already produce a high proportion of female hatchlings (e.g. Caribbean island of St Eustatius) and only a few nesting beaches produce a balanced ratio of male : female hatchlings (e.g. Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory). Experimental work is underway to identify low cost and simple ways to protect sea turtles populations in the face of climate change.
Citation: Esteban et al. (2016)
Title is: Male hatchling production in sea turtles from one of the world’s largest marine protected areas, the Chagos Archipelago
Sustainable fishing practices
Swansea University is one of the members of the PACONDAA project, which aims to identify novel and sustainable best practice for crop husbandry to prevent or minimise the risk of disease outbreaks in shrimp and fish farming by developing healthy and resilient aquaculture systems in India and Bangladesh.
The BlueFish Project
BlueFish is a consortium led by Bangor University bringing together Aberystwyth and Swansea Universities in Wales, the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the University College of Cork in Ireland. BlueFish will develop knowledge and understanding of the marine resources of the Irish Sea and Celtic Seas by addressing knowledge gaps regarding the effects on and potential vulnerability of selected commercial fish and shellfish from predicted climate change.
Monitoring Ocean Acidification
We have an ongoing interdisplinary PhD project collaboration between Professor Peter Dunstan of our Physics Department and Professor Kevin Flynn of our Biosciences Department which involves incorporating nano-particle sensors into planktonic species to monitor the effects of ocean acidification. The PhD student Mrs Nadiah Aldaleeli has worked extensively to develop robust pH nano-sensors that the species will be internalised for us to then interrogate with optical spectroscopy in a laboratory environment. Hence we can directly measure internal pH levels and exploring how planktonic species adapt to the simulated effects of ocean acidification.
Jenny Stanford's research was on palaeoceanography - past changes in the oceans. She investigated large freshwater fluxes into the North Atlantic and place them in the context of variations in ocean circulation and climate. The most notable of these events was melt water pulse (mwp) 1a, which occurred at the end of the last ice age. During this interval, global sea-level rose by around 20 m in just a few decades or so, but the exact timing of this event has remained contentious. In one scenario, this freshwater flux could have occurred with the last big, abrupt warming event, known as the Bolling warming, or alternatively, it could have been the trigger for a minor, Older Dryas, cooling event. By better constraining such large freshwater anomalies, we start to gain a better appreciation of how far and how fast the ocean-climate system can respond in a non-anthropogenically forced world and can help ground-truth our ocean-climate models.
- Friday 8 June 2018 16.47 BST
- Friday 8 June 2018 15.59 BST
- Lauren Meynell