Research Profile | Alice Bruemmer | Marine Science & Climate Change

The ALICE Project: Assessment of Litter-Fauna Interactions in submarine Canyon Environments
19th October 2022
Alice, one of our Master in Marine Science and Climate Change students, spoke to us about her research project on Marine Litter in Submarine Canyons aptly named ‘The Alice Project- (Assessment of Litter-fauna Interactions in submarine Canyon Environments) , which we are delighted to announce has been presented to JNCC (UK Government).

Describe your MSc project?

The MSc research project undertaken consists of two complementary sections. The first aims to understand the current state of marine litter-fauna interactions and impacts research with an emphasis on those occurring in submarine canyons. Currently, unstandardised data collection and reporting of such interactions means that global comparison, collaboration, and policy creation is difficult. As such, through a critical literature review, I have recorded litter-fauna interactions and resulting impacts that have been discussed and reported. From the comprehensive dataset compiled, I created 6 main groupings under which all interactions fall. This standardised framework will allow researchers to report interactions observed and compare them with worldwide data to better uncover trends in litter-fauna interactions and inform policy.
The second section of the research project is a case study for the use of the standardised framework. I have annotated litter-fauna interactions occurring within footage of The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), in offshore waters southwest of England. From this analysis, the interactions observed will be analysed, and impacts resulting from interactions will be suggested. The Canyons includes 4 features of conservation importance, only one of which has been assessed for its sensitivity to the pressure of litter. As such, the analysis of litter-fauna interactions and resulting impacts in The Canyons will inform future vulnerability and sensitivity assessments of the MCZ.

What type of research has it involved and what skills have you learned?

The first section of the research project consisted of a literature review. From this step, I learned to conduct comprehensive keywords searches using Google Scholar to uncover relevant scientific publications on a particular topic. In addition, I gained valuable practice in synthesising detailed data to communicate it in a straightforward manner. Further, non-standardisation between reporting bodies at multiple steps along the way taught me to find nexuses between reporting systems to produce standardised frameworks.
Gorgonians are among the most important habitat-forming species of benthic communities in the Mediterranean Sea. Through their three-dimensionality they create underwater forests, so called coral gardens. These coral gardens are comparable to earth forests in terms of complexity, biodiversity, stability and role of providing habitats for other animals. Therefore, their conservation is essential for maintaining the vast biodiversity that they conceal. Increasing understanding and awareness of their ecology and health condition can aid conservation and management issues.

Were there any partners/stakeholders on your project?

The outcomes of this project may be used by a conservation agency to help create sensitivity and vulnerability assessments.

Why should the public know about this topic?

The public should know about the topic of submarine canyon litter-fauna interactions because human use and improper disposal of litter is what causes the issue. While out of sight and mind, submarine canyons accumulate the largest amount of litter of any marine feature globally. Additionally, as submarine canyons connect shallow waters to the deep-sea, slow-growing and fragile species that colonise the deep-sea have the potential to be easily harmed by the impacts of litter. The research undertaken begins to quantify such impacts in order to gain a better understanding of the effects that human actions have on the deep-sea, the world’s largest ecosystem. If the public is made aware of the issue, they may use the impetus to change unsustainable consumption and disposal habits, as well as urge policymakers to create preventative legislation.

What is the wider impact of your research?

The wider impacts of my research are many. There will be a better understanding of the state of the litter-fauna interactions occurring in The Canyons MCZ, which may be used in creation of vulnerability and sensitivity assessments. Additionally, global researchers will be provided with a standardised framework for litter-fauna interactions reporting, which will allow for more streamlined worldwide data comparison. Further, in communication of the results to the public, opinions and habits may change, potentially having an impact on the amount of litter that enters the ocean and interacts with marine fauna.

Comments from Head of School

Alice’s research project builds on a particular research theme of the School of Marine Science on the vulnerability of deep-sea habitats led by Dr Jaime Davies.
The project has implications for the way in which we globally understand the short-term and long-term ecological effects of marine litter in the deep sea.
This research project is the first of its kind in providing a standarised framework for reporting the pressures and impacts caused by marine litter on vulnerable habitats and species in the deep sea. There is tangible ‘real-world applicability of the research working with, and utilised by, UK Govt and worldwide by providing evidence-led research for conservation gains.
  • MSc

    Master in Marine Science & Climate Change

    Designed and delivered by expert academics and scientists, this full or part-time interdisciplinary programme blends theoretical study with practical, field-based work. You will cover specialist subject areas and gain the skills required to tackle the complex issues associated with the sustainable development of marine ecosystems.[...]

    1 Year

    No Placement option

    Full Time

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