Sophie Corrigan

PhD Biological Sciences

I am now approaching the end of the first year of my PhD at the University of Exeter, working in collaboration with the MBA and Cefas. My project, “Evaluating and maximising the environmental benefits of seaweed farming in the Southwest”, focuses on quantifying the habitat value and biodiversity supported by seaweed farms. The aim of this work is to help inform the regulation and development of ecosystem-based approaches for the sustainable expansion of seaweed cultivation around the UK. Each chapter of my thesis intends to provide critical evidence into the habitat value of seaweed cultivation for farmers, fisheries, policy makers and stakeholders, with the aims of each chapter summarised in the diagram below:

This year, I have reviewed previous research to evaluate the environmental benefits of seaweed cultivation. Benefits include improving water quality, and providing habitats for breeding, spawning and nursery grounds to contribute towards marine biodiversity restoration, with potential stock-enhancement effects for neighbouring fisheries. I have identified the main knowledge gaps related to habitat provisioning in seaweed aquaculture, and devised methods to address these over the course of my PhD. So far, I have collected samples and data for two chapters that aim to assess the invertebrate biodiversity associated with the seaweed lines, throughout the growth and harvest period and compare this with the biodiversity associated to wild kelp populations and mussel aquaculture. I have also been trained in water quality analysis and have received my STCW sea survival training, which will allow me to safely and competently complete boat work in the future.

With the continued support from the Fishmongers Charitable Trust, I have also been able to plan benthic and pelagic surveys for the upcoming field season, which will provide novel understanding into these previously understudied areas surrounding seaweed cultivation. We are planning to collaborate with the Sheehan group at the University of Plymouth to gain their valuable expertise in remote camera surveillance, which will give an unprecedented insight into the potential for seaweed farms to support species of conservation or commercial importance. We have also began collaboration with an additional seaweed farm site in the southwest, which will enable further study opportunities and networking.

In addition to my thesis work, and with the support of Fishmongers, I have also been able to attend several conferences, including the Scottish Seaweed Industry Association and Scottish Association for Marine Science Workshops in February 2020. Here, I met with industry experts from farmers, to suppliers, to scientists and NGOs working to develop a sustainable and profitable European seaweed industry. I have also attended the OH20 Dorset Aquaculture Expo in March, the Seagriculture 2020 online conference in September, the launch of the UN Seaweed Manifesto, and all of the GENIALG online conference events. These have all given me the opportunity to keep up to date with current work and advances in the field of seaweed science, and allowed for networking opportunities where I could present the research work I am doing to other experts. I have also given departmental presentations, and been involved with outreach events from school science weeks to being a panellist on the Blue Recovery Exeter Alumni event, which was attended and viewed by over 1000 people. In the final few weeks of 2020 I have been interviewed about my research in a video for the Alumni Engagement Team (see below), and have been judging the University of Exeter Undergraduate Research Showcase to encourage the work of early career researchers. I have also helped support two undergraduate student projects relating to seaweed cultivation and contributed towards two grant applications to help advance the research surrounding sustainable seaweed aquaculture further in the future.

Thank you very much for the continued support I have received from the Fishmongers Charities Trust. I have had a wonderful and productive year so far, and I look forward to keeping you updated on my progress in the future.