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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.



Laura's Project: Evaluating the resilience of sea surface and deepwater systems to recover from oil spills in the Faroe-Shetland Channel

One of the most catastrophic anthropogenic pollution events in the marine ecosystem are oil spills. With the rapid economic development and energy demand around the world, marine petroleum exploitation and transportation has increased steadily, and with it also the risk for catastrophic oil spills and detrimental impacts to marine ecosystems.

In the last years, an increase of oil activity and pollution in the North Sea has created interest in the study of hydrocarbon degrading bacteria. The Faroe Shetland Channel is considered one of the most representative areas of the North Sea due to the increase in oil activity as well as because of the two currents, from the Arctic and from the North Atlantic that defines this region.

In this project a previous study of the microbial communities of the Faroe Shetland Channel will be extended and related to hydrocarbon concentrations, biodegradation kinetics and modelling the fate of oil in the event of a major spill in the FSC. The findings of this study will provide a better understanding of the consequences of an oil spill on marine ecosystems, to evaluate the microbial response and feed this knowledge into future oil-spill contingency plans.


Profile photo-sNative oyster in the wild 2sNative oyster with epifaunas

European oyster (Ostrea edulis) restoration: Marine Protected Areas and built structures

The European native flat oyster Ostrea edulis once formed vast beds along European coastlines that constituted a central ecological and socio-economic resource. These beds were biodiversity hotspots that mediated effective coastal ecosystem functioning, while harvesting of O. edulis contributed to food security and spurred local economies. Yet, centuries of overfishing, combined with more recent stressors such as coastal development, have led to the functional extinction of this habitat throughout most of its distribution range.

This project seeks to guide restoration efforts of this habitat by 1) finding suitable restoration sites in areas protected from the principal fishing pressure, such as MPAs and marine renewable energy development sites, 2) studying larval dispersal and settlement behaviour, in order to incorporate this knowledge into hydrodynamic models, and select restoration sites which can promote larval recruitment and connectivity between restored beds, and 3) studying the community development and biodiversity associated with O. edulis beds.

Ana started this PhD project in 2015. She previously obtained a B.Sc. degree in Biology at the Eberhard-Karls University of Tübingen in Germany and carried out her Bachelor’s thesis in coral reef ecology in the Red Sea in Egypt. Subsequently, she completed an international M.Sc. in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Ghent University in Belgium, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland and Anton-de-Kom University in Suriname. Her Master’s thesis analysed the potential of using cheap and readily available data, such as fisheries records and local ecological knowledge, to inform a small-scale shrimp fisheries in Suriname. Ana’s overall research goal is to advance marine conservation in a way that benefits society.

Ana is a student of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS), and is jointly registered at Heriot-Watt University and University of St. Andrews.


Dr. Bill Sanderson (CMBB, Heriot-Watt University)

Dr. Mark James (St. Andrews University)

Dr. David Donnan (Scottish Natural Heritage)


Scottish Natural Heritage, University of St Andrews, the Nesbitt‐Cleland Trust (St Abbs

Marine Station) and Royal Haskoning DHV





Afiq's project: Marine microbial response to oil pollution in future ocean conditions.

Afiq Mohd Fahmi is a PhD student funded by Universiti Malaysia Terengganu interested in studying the synergistic effects of ocean acidification and warming on microbial communities affected by oil pollution. Due to their diversity and large distribution across the ocean, phytoplankton play an important role in regulating and fixing carbon in the atmosphere and are key players of the marine food web. Recent studies have shown that the surface of phytoplankton; phycosphere, harbours bacteria communities responsible for hydrocarbon degradation.

Projected increase in atmospheric CO2 levels have been shown to alter ocean conditions and seawater chemistry such as temperature rise and reduced pH, thus potentially affecting selection and distribution of marine microbes responsible for crude oil degradation. Despite stricter regulations and preventative measures, ongoing oil exploration is expanding to polar regions thus increasing risk of oil pollution in the marine environment. Although marine microbes possess the flexibility to accommodate changes in seawater pH and acclimate to changing conditions, variation in selection pressure between geographical locations in addition to environmental stressors may affect biodiversity of microbial communities creating a bottom-up effect on the marine ecosystem.  Therefore, this study aims to investigate the biological response of phytoplankton and their associated bacteria to oil pollution in future ocean conditions to assess detrimental impacts it may have on the local ecosystem.





Climate change and ecotoxicology: re-assessing biomarker baselines in light of a changing environment.

The evidence for anthropogenically-driven climate change is overwhelming and it is clear that it is affecting habitats for marine organisms. Nevertheless, there is a growing realization that some established biomarker species and endpoints may need to be re-evaluated if they are to be used in future and adapted accordingly in order to ensure meaningful results in a changing environment.

This project aims to evaluate the potential changes in a suite of biomarker baselines in response to predicted climate change (ocean warming, salinity decreases and acidification) across several sentinel marine species. The biomarkers to be assessed will include oxidative stress, cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, neurotoxicity, membrane permeability changes, metabolic changes and immunotoxicity, amongst others.


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Dr Mark Hartl

Prof Teresa Fernandes

Kevin 2

Kevin's project: Understanding the biology of Cancer pagurus in relation to fisheries and human impact

Cancer pagurus, commonly known as the European Edible crab or Brown crab, is an important crustacean to the global fishing industry and is one of the most important commercial species in the UK.  I 2012 10,900 tonnes were landed into Scotland by UK boats worth £13.2million.  Despite their importance there are still large gaps in our understanding of their biology and ecology.

Recent studies have shown that mature female edible crabs have specific chosen sites for egg laying and undergo annual migrations along specific routes for larval dispersal.  This information will be used with behavioural ecology work to determine of these areas could be at risk  from future offshore and inshore developments and to try to obtain a better understanding of the larval stage of this species to to aid in management schemes and fisheries data.

Information on the effect of both fisheries and other human impacts on this species is scarce.  This work hopes to provide a clearer picture on what effect these different factors are having on a behavioural and physiological level to this important species and its life-cycle.

Project's main objectives:

  1. Conduct experimental exposures to determine the effects of electromagnetic fields, underwater noise and various environmental conditions on the different life stages of the edible crab.
  2. Gain an understanding of population dynamics and map migration patterns to aid in fisheries data and to determine if these sites are at risk by current/future offshore renewables.
  3. To further our understanding of different behaviours, including mating and competition, and diseases that affect this species.

Research will be undeertaken at both St Abbs Marine Station and Heriot-Watt University.



Dr Alastair Lyndon

Dr Dan Harries



Nesbitt-Cleland Trust