Mapping of urban coastal habitats_REP2021

Mapping of urban coastal habitats_REP2021

Mapping of urban coastal habitats 

Lead supervisor: Dr Louise Firth

Location: School of Biological & Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Duration: 8 weeks

Suitable undergraduate degrees: Marine Biology, Environmental Science, Geography 

Project background

In response to rising human populations, rising sea levels and climate change we are increasingly replacing our natural coastal habitats with artificial structures such as seawalls and rock armouring. Whilst many regions are now boasting to have >50% artificial coastline, the methods used for quantifying these methods vary by study and we currently lack a global overview of the prevalence of such large-scale habitat loss and prevalence of “ocean sprawl” – the proliferation of artificial structures in the marine environment. Google Earth has recently been used to quantify changes to coastal habitats, and to calculate the extent of artificial seawalls on local scales, but it can easily be used to apply this on a global scale (e.g. for beaches). The goal of this project is to trial a method using Google Earth that has been developed by the supervisory team for the UK coastline, with the aim to subsequently broaden this technique to the world. Such maps will be invaluable for determining the current state of knowledge of the global coastline and can be used to identify vulnerable areas in need to protection and/or rehabilitation. This project fits within three of the ARIES DTP’s key research themes: (1) Ecology & Biodiversity; (2) Marine, Atmospheric & Climate Science; (3) Geosciences, Resources & Environmental Risk.  

The student will be based in Plymouth but would make one two-day trip to Southampton (to visit collaborator, Dr Phil Fenberg, University of Southampton) at the start of the project for a team meeting to discuss mapping techniques and receive training. The student will spend the first 6 weeks of the project working with Google Earth on mapping past and present changes to the coastline in five case study regions (Plymouth Sound, The Solent, Milford Haven, Tyne Estuary, Mersey Estuary). They will spend weeks 7 and 8 ground truthing the findings by doing walk-around surveys in Plymouth Sound and the Solent, both of which have a mosaic of both natural and artificial coastal habitats. 

Literature cited (supervisory team in bold) 

1 Firth et al. 2016. Ocean sprawl: challenges and opportunities for biodiversity management in a changing world. Oceanogr & Mar Biol 54:201-278; · 2 Lai et al. 2015. The effects of urbanisation on coastal habitats and the potential for ecological engineering: A Singapore case study. Ocean Coast Mgt 103:78-85; · 3 Chee SY, Othman AG, Sim YK, Adam ANM, Firth LB. 2017. Land reclamation and artificial islands: Walking the tightrope between development and conservation. Glob Ecol Conserv12:80-95. · 4 Choi et al. 2018. Biodiversity and China’s new Great Wall. Divers Distrib24:137-143; · 5 Fenberg PB, Rivadeneira MM. 2019. On the importance of habitat continuity for delimiting biogeographic regions and shaping richness gradients. Ecol Lett. In press; · 6 Firth LB, Browne KA, Knights AM, Hawkins SJ, Nash R. 2016. Eco-engineered rock pools: a concrete solution to biodiversity loss and urban sprawl in the marine environment. Envir Res Lett11:094015; · 7 Luijendijk et al. 2018. The state of the world’s beaches. Sci Rep8:6641. 

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