Protecting vulnerable marine life in Southern Ocean depths

  • Date

    Thu 30 May 19

Deep sea coral expert Dr Michelle Taylor from the University of Essex has been awarded a prestigious Darwin Plus grant to study corals in the Southern Ocean.

The three-year project is among 17 innovative new projects around the globe to receive a share of around £3.5 million from the Darwin Plus initiative, designed to support the preservation of international nature and achieve commitments in the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to improve the environment within a generation.

The diverse array of projects to receive funding are focused on the UK Overseas Territories and include radar tracking of albatrosses in the south Atlantic, exploring the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean, and protecting wetlands in the Caribbean.

Dr Taylor, from the School of Life Sciences (formerly the School of Biological Sciences), will be working on her £278,000 project with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) - a world leader in marine science and technology, providing innovative solutions for the aquatic environment, biodiversity and food security.

The project will focus on corals, specifically a type called octocorals, which form octocoral gardens. The samples to be analysed have been collected over the past ten years from several Antarctic expeditions and from museums and institutes around the world.

Explaining her project Dr Taylor said: “The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of the world’s largest protected areas, protecting vast deep-ocean areas that harbour diverse, vulnerable marine ecosystems.

“Understanding the MPA’s role regionally is important for conservation management and this project investigates deep-sea diversity and the genetic connectivity of habitat-forming organisms within the protected area and the across the wider South Atlantic region.”

Thérèse Coffey, member of the Environmental Audit Committee said: “These 17 projects receiving funding through Darwin Plus will make a significant contribution to international conservation, demonstrating the UK's global leadership in this field.

“Protecting and enhancing nature in our Overseas Territories will help to make crucial activities such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism more sustainable.”