Professor Kerry Howell
Professor of Deep-Sea Ecology
School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
- Marine conservation
- Deep-sea biology
- Deep-water fisheries
- Habitat mapping
- Artificial intelligence
- Deep sea mining
- New antibiotics
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I am deputy programme leader for the BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Oceanography at the University of Plymouth. I am also an active academic researcher working on various topics related to conservation and sustainable management of the deep sea and High Seas, and marine habitat mapping.
- RRS Challenger C142 (UK) – (1999) NE Atlantic (trawls, grab, corers, landers)
- RS Discovery D250 (UK) – (2000) NE Atlantic (trawls, grab, corers, landers)
- RRS Discovery D252 (UK) – (2001) NE Atlantic (trawls, grab, corers, landers)
- R/V Seward Johnson II (USA) – (2002) Gulf of Mexico (Manned submersible Johnson SeaLink)
- RV Celtic Voyager (Ireland) – (2005) Irish Sea (bedhop camera system, grabs)
- R/V Endeavour CEND12/05 (UK) – (2005) Eastern English Channel (Towed camera system, grabs, cores)
- FRV Scotia (UK) – (2005) NE Atlantic (Towed camera system)
- MV Franklin 0206 (Sweden) – (2006) NE Atlantic (Seatronics towed camera system)
- FRV Scotia (UK ) – (2006) NE Atlantic (Towed camera system)
- MV Franklin 0406 (Sweden) – (2006) NE Atlantic (Seatronics towed camera system)
- R/V Belgica 2014/16 (Belgium) – (2014) Bay of Biscay, NE Atlantic (DS1 Towed camera system)
- R/V Belgica 2015/15 (Belgium) – (2015) Bay of Biscay, NE Atlantic (DS2 Towed camera system)
- RVCeltic Explorer CE05011 (Ireland) – (2015) NE Atlantic (ROV Holland I)
- RRS James Cook JC136 (UK) – (2016) NE Atlantic (DeepLinks project, ROV Isis, AUV Autosub6000)
- ILV Granuaile (Ireland) – (2017) NE Atlantic (SeaRovers project, ROV Holland I)
- ILV Granuaile (Ireland) – (2018) NE Atlantic (SeaRovers project, ROV Holland I)
- RRS Discovery (UK) – (2019) St Helena, South Atlantic (Blue Belt Programme, BAS Drop Camera System)
Roles on external bodies
- Member of the NERC Marine Facilities Advisory Board
- NERC peer review college member
- Member of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea's Working Group on Deep-Sea Ecology (2005 to present)
- Co-Chair of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative’s (DOSI) working group on the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2018 to present)
- Co-Chair of the SCOR working group (2020–2022)
- Chair of the Challenger Society Deep Sea Special Interest Group (2018 to present)
Diving deeper into marine conservation
Kerry has a global reputation for providing critical evidence and innovation solutions for the protection of deep-sea habitats.
More than 70% of our planet is ocean – and 90% of that ocean is deep sea
Those numbers alone offer an insight into the critical importance of understanding what is in these hidden environments. But they don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the challenges scientists face in trying to achieve that.
What has the deep sea ever done for me?
The deep sea supports our healthy planet, and in turn support us. Our very existence depends on a healthy, functioning deep sea environment, so we must do better at looking after it.
From an academic perspective my research is focused on understanding biodiversity patterns in the deep sea. I am interested in faunal zonation and species turnover with depth, as well as speciation along the depth gradient. More recently I have been investigating patchiness and faunal changes along isobaths, and trying to understand environmental drivers of deep-sea diversity and species distributions.
From an applied perspective my research is focused on sustainable management of the deep-sea ecosystem. In particular I am interested in research to support the design of effective marine protected area networks, including the creation of reliable habitat maps, and models of population connectivity that under-pin the design.
See our group website www.deepseacru.org for more details.
The “One Ocean Hub” is a £20 million project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) from 2019-2024. There are 24 research partners, and 35 project partner organisations. The Hub’s aim is to predict, harness and share equitably environmental, socioeconomic and cultural benefits from ocean conservation and sustainable use. I am one of 10 Co-Directors of the Hub and I Co-Lead the £4 million ‘Marine Non-Fishery Resources’ research programme within the Hub. My specific area of research on the project is focused on understanding and mapping marine (non-fishery) resources, which includes services like recycling of nutrients, carbon storage, oxygen generation, as well as potential biomedical values of marine animals like sponges. The project has a strong capacity building element and we are working with partner nations including South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Seychelles, Fiji, Solomon Island, and the Caribbean region.
This is an interdisciplinary project involving oceanographers, marine biologists, hydrographic surveyors and biogeochemists from the University of Plymouth and the Manta Trust. It is part of a wider programme of research within BIOT . Our aim is to learn what processes and interactions sustain a healthy reef ecosystem. My focus is the mesophotic coral reef systems, their composition, connectivity, drivers of their distribution, and processes maintaining overall health.
UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development / Challenger 150
I am currently coordinating efforts to develop a new 10 year deep-sea science programme for the Decade and to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Challenger Expedition. Please see the SCOR working group, DOSI working group and Challenger Deep-Sea Special Interest Group. Watch this space.......
Application of computer vision and artificial intelligence to seafloor image analysis and species identification.
This aspect of my research is embedded in multiple projects. I am coordinating international efforts to build an image reference archive for deep-sea species to support the future development of AI and CV. I am also trialing the use of AI and CV in AUV and ROV image data.
Deep-sea discovery - mining marine environments for novel biologics
The aim of this research project is to identify and develop potential new antimicrobials produced by the microbiome of sponges that live in the deep sea.
DEEPLINKS - Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea marine benthic biota .
Knowledge of how populations are connected is central to our understanding of population persistence, isolation, divergence, speciation and radiation. The bathyal region has been identified as the primary site of adaptive radiation in the deep-sea from molecular and morphological studies and is also where the peak in species diversity occurs in many ocean basins. Gene-flow is low over the depth gradient suggesting limited larval exchange occurs in the vertical. Recent research has suggested that larval dispersal potential may vary with depth.This variation, given the limited vertical exchange, may provide a mechanism for population isolation, divergence and speciation in the bathyal region. This study will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to investigate connectivity among deep-sea populations at different depths and spatial scales using: 1) larval dispersal modelling using Lagrangian particle tracking, driven by hydrographic models 2) population genetics/genomics and 3) benthic community analysis, using examples of sessile (scleractinian corals) and limited mobility (echinoid) species as test subjects. We will examine changes in larval dispersal, gene-flow,gene expression and community and taxonomic patterns with depth to identify possible variation in population connectivity down the vertical gradient. We will also examine patterns of connectivity at different spatial scales. Critically we will investigate whether the changes in connectivity from the shelf break to bathyal depths are correlated to current flow as predicted by hydrodynamic models and whether this physical mechanism significantly contributes to current patterns of diversity, potentially driving speciation at large spatial scales or, alternatively, whether other factors are influencing genetic structure.
Nicola Foster - BIOT Mesopelagic Reefs / DeepLinks
Kirsty McQuaid - One Ocean Hub
As Director of Studies
Amelia Bridges - PhD title "Distribution of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the South Atlantic" 2017-2020
As other supervisor
Molly James - PhD title "Predicting species dispersal in marine systems: A multi-disciplinary approach." 2017-2020
Matthew Koch - PhD title "Deep-sea discovery - mining marine environments for novel biologics" 2017-2020
Clara Diaz - PhD title "Investigating the distribution and diversity of mesophotic reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)" 2019-2022
Edward Robinson - PhD title " Oceanographic drivers of ecosystem variability in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)" 2019-2022
Rhodri Irranca-Davies - thesis title "The application of AI and CV to deep-sea image analysis"
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Nils Piechaud - PhD The application of autonomous underwater vehicles to challenges in marine habitat mapping and predictive species distribution modelling, 2019.
Kirsty McQuaid - PhD The application of predictive modelling to marine spatial planning associated with deep-sea mining, 2020.
Charlotte Marshall - PhD Species distribution modelling to support marine conservation planning, 2011
Jaime Davies - PhD Mapping Deep-Sea Features in UK Waters For Use in Marine Protected Area Network Design. 2011
Rebecca Jefferson - PhD Communicating Marine Environmental Health: Connecting Science, Social and Policy Values, 2010
Grants & contracts
Key publications are highlightedJournals