Growing up in a relatively inland area of the United Kingdom, I didn’t spend much time near the sea, yet I have always had a fascination for the animals living within it. Perhaps the many hours (arguably too many) that, as a child, I spent in front of the television glued to the Discovery Channel and National Geographic fuelled my interest, or the numerous visits to aquariums and zoos. Whatever the cause, it has driven me to pursue my fascination for the marine environment, undertaking a BSc, MPhil (Master’s by pure research) and PhD at Newcastle University, where I currently hold a post-doc research associate position. Despite my close attachment to the cold north-east of England, I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most charismatic marine taxa (sharks, rays, sea turtles and marine mammals) and many wonderful people around the world, including fishers, wildlife fanatics and brilliant academics (such as my co-principal investigator Nina!).
While some of my research has been conducted locally in the United Kingdom, most of it has been undertaken in the Western Indian Ocean region, a part of the world with captivating natural beauty, abundant wildlife and fantastically welcoming people. Coastal communities here are intrinsically linked to, and dependent on, the surrounding marine environment – and their knowledge of it is unparalleled. Yet they are increasingly concerned about the changes occurring in their coastal waters, some a result of their own activities and others far out of their control. It is my aim to help these coastal communities protect the future of their environment and the species they depend on for food and income, both for themselves and for their children.
A vital part of protecting a species, especially one that is relied upon as a source of food or income, is understanding the rate at which we can remove individuals from a population without harming the overall population numbers. This is particularly difficult in the marine environment because we can’t easily keep count of population numbers (it is difficult to count what we cannot see!) and we know so little about the lives of so many species. This project aims to provide insights into the life of Kenya’s ‘other rhino’, the halavi guitarfish (family Rhinobatidae). Occurring in coastal waters from Kenya to western India, the halavi guitarfish belongs to one of the most endangered groups of fishes on the planet – the giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes – and is itself thought to be critically endangered. These species are valuable for their high-quality meat and fins, for both local markets and international trade. Our project aims to understand more of the life history of the halavi guitarfish, including its growth rate, age at maturity and lifespan, as well as how frequently it produces offspring and how many at a time. With this information we can better understand how to manage this species and secure the long-term survival of both it and the communities that rely on it.