Richard's expertise lie in the ecological structuring processes of marine systems and the implications of these systems for society. This focuses primarily on the interrelationships between foundation species, habitat, and associated productive fauna (mainly fish). He is particularly interested in the consequences of cross-scale environmental changes on seagrass meadows functioning and the implications of this for global food security and other ecosystem services.

Richard has more than twelve years’ experience of research in marine systems and conducts collaborative interdisciplinary research in Europe, Australia, Indonesia, Columbia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Based within the SEACAMS team at Swansea, he leads the level 3 module in 'Tropical marine ecology and conservation' and teaches on the MSc module 'Conservation of aquatic resources'.

After completing his PhD in 2007, Richard conducted research and consulting work for Sinclair Knight Merz, Brisbane and the Northern Fisheries Centre, Queensland, Australia. He has also worked as an senior ecology lecturer at University of Glamorgan.

He is an academic editor at PLoS One and vice-president of the World Seagrass Association. Richard is also a founding director of Project-Seagrass and continues to work as a senior scientist at SeagrassWatchHQ. Other roles include membership of the editorial boards of Marine Pollution Bulletin and Marine Environmental Research.

His current research projects include the impact of climate variability on seagrass ecosystems, social-ecological systems analysis, ocean acidification and seagrass, and the resilience and ecosystem service provision of seagrass.

Funding is currently through SEACAMS, Darwin, the Waterloo Foundation and the Ocean Foundation.

Areas of Expertise

  • Marine ecology
  • Seagrass biology
  • Fisheries ecology
  • Fish biology
  • Social-ecological systems
  • resilience
  • marine biology
  • Food security
  • ecological economics


  1. Duffy, J., Benedetti-Cecchi, L., Trinanes, J., Muller-Karger, F., Ambo-Rappe, R., Boström, C., Buschmann, A., Byrnes, J., Coles, R., Creed, J., Cullen-Unsworth, L., Diaz-Pulido, G., Duarte, C., Edgar, G., Fortes, M., Goni, G., Hu, C., Huang, X., Hurd, C., Johnson, C., Konar, B., Krause-Jensen, D., Krumhansl, K., Macreadie, P., Marsh, H., McKenzie, L., Mieszkowska, N., Miloslavich, P., Montes, E., Nakaoka, M., Norderhaug, K., Norlund, L., Orth, R., Prathep, A., Putman, N., Samper-Villarreal, J., Serrao, E., Short, F., Pinto, I., Steinberg, P., Stuart-Smith, R., Unsworth, R., van Keulen, M., van Tussenbroek, B., Wang, M., Waycott, M., Weatherdon, L., Wernberg, T., Yaakub, S. Toward a Coordinated Global Observing System for Seagrasses and Marine Macroalgae Frontiers in Marine Science 6
  2. Marimba, A., Ambo-Rappe, R., Nafie, Y., Unsworth, R., Unsworth, R. “Samba” Fish Catching Operations in the seagrass meadows of Selayar Island, Indonesia IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 253 1 012027
  3. Exton, D., Ahmadia, G., Cullen-Unsworth, L., Jompa, J., May, D., Rice, J., Simonin, P., Unsworth, R., Smith, D. Artisanal fish fences pose broad and unexpected threats to the tropical coastal seascape Nature Communications 10 1
  4. Unsworth, R. A call for seagrass protection Science 361 6401 446 448
  5. Unsworth, R., Nordlund, L., Cullen-Unsworth, L. Seagrass meadows support global fisheries production Conservation Letters e12566
  6. Nordlund, L., Unsworth, R., Gullström, M., Cullen-Unsworth, L. Global significance of seagrass fishery activity Fish and Fisheries
  7. Unsworth, R., McKenzie, L., Collier, C., Cullen-Unsworth, L., Duarte, C., Eklöf, J., Jarvis, J., Jones, B., Nordlund, L. Global challenges for seagrass conservation Ambio
  8. Reynolds, P., Stachowicz, J., Hovel, K., Boström, C., Boyer, K., Cusson, M., Eklöf, J., Engel, F., Engelen, A., Eriksson, B., Fodrie, F., Griffin, J., Hereu, C., Hori, M., Hanley, T., Ivanov, M., Jorgensen, P., Kruschel, C., Lee, K., McGlathery, K., Moksnes, P., Nakaoka, M., O'Connor, M., O'Connor, N., Orth, R., Rossi, F., Ruesink, J., Sotka, E., Thormar, J., Tomas, F., Unsworth, R., Whalen, M., Duffy, J. Latitude, temperature, and habitat complexity predict predation pressure in eelgrass beds across the Northern Hemisphere Ecology 99 1 29 35
  9. Unsworth, R., McKenzie, L., Nordlund, L., Cullen-Unsworth, L. A changing climate for seagrass conservation? Current Biology 28 21 R1229 R1232
  10. Röhr, M., Holmer, M., Baum, J., Björk, M., Boyer, K., Chin, D., Chalifour, L., Cimon, S., Cusson, M., Dahl, M., Deyanova, D., Duffy, J., Eklöf, J., Geyer, J., Griffin, J., Gullström, M., Hereu, C., Hori, M., Hovel, K., Hughes, A., Jorgensen, P., Kiriakopolos, S., Moksnes, P., Nakaoka, M., O'Connor, M., Peterson, B., Reiss, K., Reynolds, P., Rossi, F., Ruesink, J., Santos, R., Stachowicz, J., Tomas, F., Lee, K., Unsworth, R., Boström, C. Blue Carbon Storage Capacity of Temperate Eelgrass (Zostera marina) Meadows Global Biogeochemical Cycles 32 10 1457 1475

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  • BIO238 Marine Ecosystems: Threats and Conservation

    This module introduces the students to various marine ecosystems and the broad ecological concepts that underpin marine community structure. The first block of lectures will present processes that are common across many marine ecosystems. Subsequent lectures will go into detail on types of marine ecosystems, with specific examples in tropical, temperate, and polar regions. Within these lectures we will focus on some of the threats faced by these ecosystems, ranging from climate change and marine plastics to illegal fishing and tourism. The module will also introduce conservation efforts in the marine ecosystems presented over the semester. There will be two fieldtrips that will exemplify some of the processes and challenges faced by biota found in some of the ecosystems covered in the lectures. One will be to the Crymlyn Burrows saltmarsh/estuary to assess the adaptations of estuarine organisms to salinity variability and the other will be carried out on the RV Mary Anning investigating how primary and secondary production can influence marine community structure. There are three pieces of coursework associated with the module. Two of these will be based around the field trips. These assignments will rely on observations and data, with emphasis placed on teamwork and group cooperation both in the field and when preparing and presenting your findings. The third will be a computer-based practical using ecosystem modelling software to look at how different threats (e.g. ocean warming, overfishing) might impact a virtual marine ecosystem.

  • BIO327 Tropical marine ecology field course

    This field based module will provide students with an introduction to the ecology of tropical marine systems and teach students the key practical skills required by tropical marine biologists. Students will obtain training in how to design, implement and report scientifically robust marine research. The module will complement the level three marine field course and help develop key skills in field based marine biology. Students will learn skills in marine ecology and taxonomy, in-water marine sampling and surveys, and impact assessment. This module will be mostly practical based but will also include theory lectures, workshops and feedback sessions. It would be structured around seven days of directed practical activities and a three day small group based mini-project. The field course will utilise snorkeling and intertidal walking as the major means of sampling throughout directed practical¿s.

  • BIO330 Tropical marine ecology and conservation

    This module will provide a holistic overview of the ecology and conservation of important marine ecosystems, and will place this information within the context of ecosystem services, and their value to humanity. This module will consist of up to 12 lectures/seminars on the following topics: ¿ Diversity and biology of coral reef communities ¿ Structure and function of seagrass meadows (temperate and tropical) ¿ Mangrove forest ecology ¿ Connectivity across the tropical marine seascape ¿ The ecosystem services of tropical marine systems ¿ Response of coral reef systems to climate change and ocean acidification ¿ Degradation of tropical marine systems ¿ Resilience thinking and the management of tropical marine systems The module also contains a workshop session and additional direct contact with the module lead lecturer.

  • BIO346 Professional Skills in Marine Biology

    This field-based module will introduce students to the professional techniques utilised to monitor and study marine life in a variety of marine and coastal habitats and in relation to conservation management and biodiversity monitoring in the United Kingdom. The course places a strong emphasis on marine ecological census techniques. Students will learn key skills relevant to the marine ecology sector including protected and economically-important species (especially marine mammals, fish, shellfish, coastal birds), Phase 1 habitat surveys and water quality surveys. Students will also learn about the biotic and abiotic factors that define different UK habitats and relevant regulations that protect them. The module provides an introduction to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process and a range of impacts on the marine environment including energy generation and pollution. Participants in this module will work in groups acting as a marine environmental consultancy and the class will be responsible for producing key survey results for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and public engagement presentation for a proposed commercial development in Carmarthen Bay. Students will gain insider experience about professional techniques in marine (and freshwater) biology through a series of lectures delivered by marine environmental practitioners from environmental consultancies and regulatory organisations in the UK. The course includes a five-day residential field course in September/October which provides the students with the opportunity to practice the key technical skills in a real-world setting.

  • BIOM37B Conservation of Aquatic Resources

    The module will identify major issues in the conservation of aquatic organisms and develop the knowledge base of students in aquatic conservation, including those related to captive breeding programmes and the potential effects of climate change and other stressors. Some of the lectures/seminars are given by invited experts in the field. The module is assessed by a combination of continuous assessment (50%) and written examination (50%).


  • Investigating variations in inter-nesting movement and habitat usage by green turtles in the Lesser Antilles (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Nicole Esteban
  • Camera methods for the assessment of coastal biodiversity in dynamic environments associated with marine renewable developments. (current)

    Other supervisor: Prof Kam Tang
    Other supervisor: Dr Hanna Nuuttila
  • Sea cucumbers in the Indo-Pacific. (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr James Bull
  • Increasing understanding of habitat use by foraging sea turtles in Statia National Marine Park, Dutch Caribbean (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Nicole Esteban
  • Creating a non monetary valuation system for seagrass ecosystem services (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Penny Neyland
  • Environmental thresholds of resistance in the seagrasses (current)

    Other supervisor: Prof Rory Wilson

    Other supervisor: Dr Hanna Nuuttila
    Other supervisor: Dr William Allen
  • Distinct bacterial communities associated with Zostera marina roots may persist along ontogenetic gradients (awarded 2020)

    Other supervisor: Dr William Allen
  • The challenges of studying cetaceans: a focus on the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) at potential marine renewable energy sites in Wales (awarded 2019)

    Other supervisor: Dr Hanna Nuuttila
  • Marine protected areas as a management tool: A global assessment into the effect of varying levels of protection on seagrass-associated fish communities (awarded 2019)

    Other supervisor: Dr Hanna Nuuttila
  • 'Local and Regional variability of Indo-Pacific Seagrass Fish Assemblages' (awarded 2018)

    Other supervisor: Dr Hanna Nuuttila

Research Groups

  • Seagrass Ecosystem Research Group

    Seagrass Ecosystem Research Group (SERG) is a joint inter-disciplinary marine research collaboration between scientists in Biosciences at Swansea University and the PLACE Institute at Cardiff University. We are engaged in basic and applied research into the structure, function and resilience of seagrass meadows within a linked social ecological system and the food security support these meadows provide.