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Newquay student making waves with PhD research

Published: January 16, 2020

 A former marine zoology student from Newquay is making waves with her PhD research on Manta Rays. 

Joanna Harris, who completed a degree in Applied Marine Zoology at Cornwall College Newquay, has begun a PhD studying the Reef Manta Rays of the Chagos Archipelago in British Indian Ocean Territory.

Through the Manta Trust and Plymouth University, Joanna is part of an interdisciplinary project involving oceanographers, m arine biologists, hydrographic surveyors, engineers and biogeochemists with the aim to understand the dynamic processes that influence areas of high biodiversity in a healthy tropical marine ecosystem to develop better conservation strategies.

“The project, funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation, is taking place at the Chagos Archipelago, one of the world’s largest marine protected areas,” Joanna explained.

“Relatively untouched by direct human influence, it is one of the world’s most pristine marine environments, providing a unique opportunity to study ecosystems in a near-natural state.

“Under this overarching project, the Manta Trust is studying the region’s reef manta ray subpopulation. I am leading the project, which forms my PhD studentship.”

The research will investigate the dynamic association between reef manta rays, zooplankton and the oceanographic environment via long-term in situ oceanographic monitoring, acoustic tagging of reef manta rays and plankton sampling.

“The results of the study will not only enhance our ecological understanding of the reef manta ray, but also of local zooplankton dynamics,” Joanna continued.

“It will also assist in identifying the impact of human pressures which will help inform conservation management planning throughout the species range.”

Joanna’s PhD is the culmination of a passion for the marine environment that began when she was a child.

“I fell in love with the ocean when I first learnt to snorkel at about three or four years old,” she said.

“I was obsessed, and this obsession is what developed my passion for marine conservation. I was keen to embark on a career in the field which is why I chose to study Marine Conservation at Cornwall College. It was during the second year of my degree that I developed a love for reef manta rays while doing a module assignment for which I learnt about the detrimental pressures they face which have led to catastrophic declines of the species.”

Joanna joined the Manta Trust as a volunteer and went on to research the movement ecology of reef manta rays in the Maldives for the honours project as part of her degree.

“Cornwall College Newquay was a fantastic place to study. Everyone is incredibly supportive and dedicated a lot of time to helping me turn ideas into reality. I learnt so much from so many of the lectures which has played a key role in being able to progress.”


For more information on the range of Wildlife Education, Animal Behaviour & Management and Zoological, Marine & Ecological Conservation courses available at Cornwall College Newquay visit HERE or call 0330 123 2523.



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