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


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


Project Description


Dr Tim Scott (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth) – Contact me

Dr Antony Knights (University of Plymouth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences)

Professor Gerd Masselink (University of Plymouth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences)

Dr Christopher Stokes (University of Plymouth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences)

Prof. Peter Britz (Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University)

Richard Clark (Wild Coast Abalone)

Dr Paul-Pierre Steyn (Nelson Mandela University)

Dr Niall Vine (Fort Hare University)

Dr Shaul Deyzel (South African Environmental Observation Network (NRF-SAEON))


Project Background

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.

Person specification

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.


  • 1) 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. Aquaculture 240.
  • 2) 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
  • 3) 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.
  • 4) 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.
  • 5) Stokes, C., Poate, T., Masselink, G., et al., 2020. 'Forecasting coastal overtopping at engineered and naturally defended coastlines' Coastal Engineering 164

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers 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. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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