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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.



Glenn Jessen's project: Climate change and ecotoxicology: re-assessing biomarker baselines in light of a changing environment


The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows that the average temperature of the upper 75 m of the ocean has been increasing at an average rate of 0.11°C per decade globally since 1971, and that the average pH has decreased by 0.1 during the same period. This trend is predicted to continue.

The three main symptoms of marine climate change most likely to have major consequences are: increase in temperature, ocean acidification, and local fluctuations in salinity.

In ecotoxicology, a biomarker can be defined as a measurable biochemical, physiological or histological indicator of exposure to a xenobiotic. It is necessary to gain an understanding of how biomarker responses vary due to changing conditions such as climatic factors.

The number of published ecotoxicological studies directly related to climate change is limited. A common theme to the changing climatic parameters of ocean temperatures, salinity and acidification is the requirement for a greater understanding of how they will affect marker species under representative near-future conditions. Furthermore, it is necessary to investigate each of these variables separately and to consider potential interactive effects of multiple environmental stressors to gain a better understanding of the future of biomarker performance and ecotoxicological testing.

The aim of this study is to simulate current and predicted near-future conditions for rising temperatures, ocean acidification and fluctuating salinity, and investigate how these potentially affect a range of established biomarkers separately and in a multiple stressor setup. To ensure that biomarker responses can be appropriately contextualised and continue to be used in environmental monitoring in the future.

Supervisors: Dr Mark Hartl and Prof. Teresa Fernandes

Funders: James-Watt Scholarship, Heriot-Watt University, School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society



Hannah's project: Quantifying the potential contributing of shellfish beds to blue carbon sinks

Bivalve molluscs provide a wealth of ecosystem goods and services from water quality management to being commercially valuable. Historically, overfishing and disease has led to the depletion of bivalve stocks globally. Internationally, task forces have been formed with the sole purpose of restoring rich biogenic reefs to coastal waters and recovering once abundant native species. In recent years the potential value of blue carbon stores has come under focus, with 83% of the world’s carbon being circulated through our oceans. Extensive focus has been directed toward photosynthetic blue carbon stores such as mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrass meadows while the processes occurring within other potential blue carbon habitats has been largely understudied.

This project aims to quantify the potential of shellfish beds to be more widely considered as blue carbon stores. Quantification will be achieved by focusing on 1) carbon budgeting of shellfish; quantification of real-time annual carbon storage versus annual output, 2) the role of biogenic reefs in carbon capture under controlled and natural conditions and 3) to apply knowledge to other shellfish species and format a large-scale carbon storage assessment.

Hannah started her PhD project in the March of 2018. Previously having studied at Bangor University of North Wales, she completed her BSc as a joint honour’s in Marine Biology and Zoology. Her Bachelor’s project focused on the role of environmental parameters in maternal nest choice and subsequent hatchling success (as a factor of these parameters) in two sea turtle species (C. caretta and C. mydas). Data were incorporated through collaboration with the NGOs Operation Wallacea and Centro Ecologico de Akumal in Mexico, both of which Hannah spent time working with both in Akumal and previously at other field sites.

Following the achievement of her first degree Hannah continued her studies at the School of Ocean Sciences working towards her MSc in Marine Biology. Her Master’s thesis investigated the response of the infaunal estuarine bivalve E. mactroides of Uruguay to seasonal hypoxic regimes. This work was carried out with a focus to the Sclerochronological signatures observed within the specimens she worked on. In addition, comparative studies were conducted focusing on morphological changes observed between study sites. Comparisons were made through geometric morphometric mapping, Procrustes superimposition of landmarks and Principal Component Analysis plots.

Through her current research Hannah hopes to contribute to and build upon the current knowledge with regards to how marine bivalves respond to and shape their environment. While also providing methodologies, which may be utilised to estimate and assess the carbon carrying capacity of a range of shellfish species and shellfish bed formations.

Short video of Hannah introducing her project


Dr. Bill Sanderson (Heriot-Watt University)

Dr. Karen Diele (Edinburgh Napier)

Dr. Ian Davies (Marine Scotland)

Professor John Baxter (Scottish Natural Heritage, Heriot-Watt University)

Dr Ted Henry (Heriot-Watt university)

Collaborating institutes:

Heriot-Watt University

St Abbs Marine Station

Edinburgh Napier University


Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Glemorangie Whisky Company



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







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.



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.


Personal web address:



Dr Mark Hartl

Prof Teresa Fernandes