Abalone larval dispersal networks: Toward a sustainable future for regional harvesting in South Africa

To apply please use the online application form, simply search for PhD Marine Science and clearly state that you are applying for an ARIES PhD studentship and name the project SOBMS-1022-S1-P5 (ARIES, Scott), at the top of your personal statement.

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Dr Tim Scott

Dr Antony Knights

Professor Gerd Masselink

Dr Christopher Stokes

Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)


Project details

In South Africa (SA) the wild abalone fishery (Haliotis midae), the most valuable fishery per unit harvest, has suffered extensive poaching since the 1990’s (10 times legal quota), causing stock collapse. The seeding and on-growing of farm-grown juvenile abalone into the wild, is seen as a feasible alternative sustainable fishery option in South Africa’s Eastern Cape (SAEC). Traditional approaches of seeding juvenile abalone from large aquaculture farms into existing wild populations are not deemed viable due to cost, with the seeding of small-farm grown larvae into the natural environment considered a possible solution. Understanding the efficacy of larval seeding for this wild ranching is significantly hampered by a lack of understanding of larval dispersal due to surf/ocean currents and associated population connectivity.

The student will develop/validate numerical model simulations of abalone larval transport by surfzone and ocean currents though SAEC to investigate local/regional population connectivity and examine efficacy of larval seeding. This process will involve extensive field data collection in SA including high-resolution coastal bathymetry (drone-based photogrammetry), hydrodynamic model validation (ocean/surfzone drifters), and involvement in ongoing nearshore larval monitoring and genetic analysis of wild/seeded abalone populations with project partners.

The student will be part of the Coastal Processes Research Group (CPRG) and the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre (MBERC); two internationally-recognised groups of researchers, specialising in field studies and numerical modelling of coastal processes and marine ecology, resulting in organic transfer of data collection/analysis skills, and subject-specific knowledge. You will work within an established inter-disciplinary international consortium including ecologists, zoologists, fisheries and aquaculture experts from leading South African universities and industry. The successful candidate will gain advanced skills in multi-scale numerical modelling (XBeach/Deflt3D/OceanParcels), field data collection and lab taxonomy work. You will also spend a significant amount of time in South Africa, collecting/analysing data, and developing your knowledge and skills in ecology and wild ranching aquaculture techniques.

We are seeking a PhD candidate with a background in marine science, marine biology or coastal engineering, with strong numeracy, communication and inter-personal skills, and with a strong affinity for the marine environment. Numerical modelling expertise and fieldwork experience is highly desirable.


Funding notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2022.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.

ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

For information and full eligibility visit https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/


McCarroll, J. R., Scott, T., King, E. V., Masselink, G.,Ciotti, B., Cloete, A., Steyn, P., Britz, P., Vine, N. G., Deyzel, S. H. P.,Witte, A. and Clark, R., 2021. Modelling regional and local-scale larval seeding strategies for abalone (H. midae) ranching in South Africa. Aquaculture240.

James, M., Polton, J., Brereton, A., Howell, K.,Nimmo-Smith, A. & Knights, A., 2019. 'Reverse engineering field-derived vertical distribution profiles to infer larval swimming behaviors'  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116, (24)11818-11823

King, E. V., Conley, D. C., Masselink, G., Leonardi,N., McCarroll, R. J., and Scott, T., 2019. The Impact of Waves and Tides on Residual Sand Transport on a Sediment‐Poor, Energetic, and Macrotidal Continental Shelf. JGR Oceans 124.

Britz, P., 2014. FAO Technical Support to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) in the Overall Development of the Aquaculture Sector in South Africa. Report TCP/SAF/3401/2.

Stokes, C., Poate, T., Masselink, G., et al., 2020.'Forecasting coastal overtopping at engineered and naturally defended coastlines' Coastal Engineering 164