Play to Learn. Learn to Share. Share to Enhance. Enhance to play more.
I am a passionate marine environmental scientist and scuba diver, with a Ph.D. in biology, M.Sc. in Geoscience and B.Sc. in Geology, and have >500 research dives totalling 730 hours underwater.
My longest dive, on one tank, was 198 minutes at the "Briar Patch", Lee Stocking Island, The Bahamas - clipping seagrass for a sea turtle carrying capacity study. It was meditative work. My most fun dive, also in The Bahamas, at "Barge", was when I took a few Belgian cave divers to do a shallow drift dive and we unexpectedly drifted into 10 large nurse sharks in front of a rock - we startled each other (well, they were minding their own business!), and they departed by going directly over my buddy's head - they had to breach the water's surface to get over him and scratched their undersides on the top of his head. Yes, screams do travel well through water! My most interesting finding during a dive was in the Florida Keys, when I came across a couch-sized Clionid sponge off Key West - a species whose size I was using as an indicator of eutrophication (yuck!). The stupidest thing I've seen while diving is numerous people pulling sharks tails - whether nurse sharks or sixgill sharks - it's just not a good thing to do. What I have a terrible thing hiding while out diving, is that I get terribly sea-sick - I have been known to take a nap pre-work, underwater.
My research interests are primarily applied and solution driven. I use various indicators — sponges, sharks, fish, macroinvertebrates, biodiversity, people, etc. — to evaluate the health of aquatic ecosystems to understand conservation needs and successes. I mostly work in marine and connected freshwater ecosystems, but I am interested in all ecosystems, urban and remote. I use a variety of tools and techniques, spanning ecology, chemistry, geology, statistics, GIS and social science, to improve our understanding of what we are seeing in the natural world today, how that compares to the past, and what we might expect in the future. I aim to include citizen science in my research endeavours wherever possible, and to use research techniques that are the least invasive and extractive as possible.
In the last 10 years, I have been the Principal Investigator of eShark (eOceans.org), which provides event-based monitoring of marine ecosystems from recreational divers, fishers and other marine-explorers. This 'Citizen Science' project gathers observations on sharks, rays, turtles, jellyfish, seahorses, whales, dolphins, seals, ghost gear and marine debris from ocean explorer. These data are used to establish baselines, fill important data gaps, monitor populations, and, when combined with threat information, used to identify priority conservation areas. With >13,000 records in Thailand, >19,000 records in Fiji - through the first two concentrated counts thanks to the Great Fiji Shark Count and Shark Guardian - this marine spatial planning exercise is now underway.
Through this work, I have gained a wealth of experience in developing and applying advanced statistical techniques to better understand the information hidden within complex data.
Sharks have been my primary focus as an indicator of ecosystem health over the last 10 years - evaluating conservation needs and successes surrounding shark management strategies. However, I also use benthic communities (e.g., sponges, corals) and isotope chemistry to evaluate coastal eutrophication (i.e., sewage loading) patterns. And, I use macroinvertebrates and fish populations in lakes and streams, that are connected to the ocean, to evaluate connectivity (e.g., dams and other structures that prevent anadromous and catadromous fish from gaining access to their essential upstream ecosystems) and water quality (e.g., road salts, hydrocarbons, sedimentations and other urban pollutants - here, I'm particularly interested in understanding the success of various watershed solution projects (e.g., low-impact-developments that aim to restore hydrologic conditions, habitats and biodiversity).
I have also been involved in various other projects, including: the design of Canada’s Marine Protected Area network and identifying ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs); evaluating the costs and benefits of implementing artificial reefs in cold-water areas; determining the impact of sediment loading on coral reef ecosystems and physiology; conducting sediment and nutrient analysis to understand the carrying capacity of Caribbean seagrass beds for green turtles; guiding best-practices for the tourism industry while interacting with sharks and rays.