Summer Schools at the National Oceanography Centre



These past few weeks have been very intense. I like living life intensely, even if it is at a cost of sleep. I have been involved with three Summer Schools at the National Oceanography Centre UK once again. For the first school we had 30 young (15-16 years old) girls and we wanted to inspire them to pursue STEM related higher education. Basically it was about having more females going for careers in engineering, technology and science.

The second Summer School was run by the EDT (Engineering development Trust) and offered a Headstart course for future university applicants. Our job as Science Staff was to demonstrate to and teach 60 teenagers about marine biology and oceanography. We got out on the R/V Callista and did some sampling in the local river Itchen Estuary and the Solent. We looked at the benthic and plankton communities and investigated with use of microscopes.

The third Summer School was sponsored by the BG and involved 120 young adults. We as the Science Staff were once again demonstrating, giving tours and lectures on both the research vessel and on the shore. I had a great time talking about the deep sea and bioluminescence, about applications of marine biology in biomedical science and giving tours around the aquarium. The students seemed to enjoy the schools as well and at the end of each one they presented their findings to an audience of peers, parents and teachers.

This is a very rewarding job and it makes me happy to hear that I have inspired a few teenagers to pursue ocean-related careers.

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summer schools staff

sfaff barAnd the final staff photo. We have survived the marathon of long days at work and what is more – we all enjoyed it!

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Bermuda on a scooter – timelapse.

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Bermuda from the air.

Maybe I am not Scott Stallard (do check his aerial photography of Bermuda – amazing) but even the views from little window of the plane are breathtaking… Just check out those reefs!





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What if you could spend your life sunbathing? – The upside-down jellyfish survey.

A Bermudian mangrove pond, seen from above and under the water.


pond fish

The Walsingham Pond is an anchialine pond, a type aquatic pool lacking surface connection with the open sea, but one that is permanently connected with the sea waters and thus still subject to tidal flushing.  One of the most noticeable features of the pond is the high abundance of the upside down jellyfish. They posess a symbitic algae, which perform photosynthesis. The pond is quite murky in deeper parts and thus the light penetration is limited.

The distribution of jellyfish, their abundance and size should therefore reflect the amount of light reaching the different depths.

pond map


Equipped with a sledge with a mounted GoPro camera, depth logger and a GPS we conducted a survey of the whole pond. It took us half a day of constant swimming, duck-diving and filming. But for the survey to be robust you need to put effort into it, even when it means hurting ears the day later.

Walshingham Pond

An ArcGIS plotted track. The only part of the pond not covered (SE)  is due to the loss of GPS connection.

upside down jellies

an example of a screenshot from the survey video. Shown in the middle are two individuals of Cassiopea sp. jellyfish, upside down, exposing the tentacles with algae. The analysis revealed that both the abundance and bell diameter are dependent on depth, used as a proxy for light.

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Worse than bad finning technique? The impact of a cruise ship grounding on a coral reef.



Cruise ship that run aground on a coral reef near Bermuda

R/V Stommel - one of BIOS vesselsR/V Stommel that belongs to BIOS

I have travelled around the world and seen varios coral reef ecosystems. Most of them not in their best state, showing signs of destructive fishing methods, temperature induced bleeching events and loss of biodiversity.

This time I had a chance to conduct a post impact survey in Bermuda. On May 19th 2015 a cruise ship called ‘Norwegian Dawn’ run aground on a Bermudian reef due to a temporary loss of power. It left a 60m long scar and excavated lots of sediment and rubble. Although a tragic event in itself, it gave us an opportunity to see a cross-section of a coral reef.  It takes thousands of years for a reef to form and just a moment to destroy it.

But despite the obvious impact in the actual scar and the incredible amount of rubble and dead coral left, the scale of the impact seemed surprisingly small.

The reef I saw around Bermuda were actually one of the healthiest reefs I have ever visited! It is probably due to the combination of low temperatures (Bermudian reefs are some of the northern-most reef ecosystem in the world – the 1st place goes this time to Japan) and lack of distructive fishing methods. So although there are only around 20 species of corals in Bermuda, they seem to be doing quite well!

So what happens to the company that owned the cruise ship? Well, nothing really, they have not been fined yet. But it is to soon to say what will follow.


The 60m long scar on a reef, left by a vessel that run aground


Preparing for the survey


Daving showing off his free-diving skills


Still such a healthy reef!

DRAPELLA ZOFIA POSTER FINAL.pdf - Adobe Reader 15062015 050827

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Seagrass survey in Bailey’s Bay.

quadrat divers

Seagrasses are the only flowering plants inhabiting marine environment, that flower underwater. They can tolerate high salinity and are an important food source for marine turtles. They also serve as a nursery for juvenile fish. They prefer sheltered environments such as bays and need light to photosynthesize. Seagrass beds are however easily damaged due to anchoring, trawling and propellers. On the second day of the Tropical Marine Biology fieldwork held at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) we surveyed seagrass beds in Baileys Bay. We looked at change in segrass density with depth (a proxy for light) and wave exposure. A second group looked at the impact of boat mooring on seagrass community. The data is now being analysed, but it looks like seagrass is more dense in shallow, sheltered areas. Different types of mooring also influence the seagrass density and the chains seem to have high scour, which creates halos of low density seagrass in close proximity to the mooring.

BDA map copy

Area of the survey – Bailey’s Bay location in the Bermuda archipelago.


4 x 100m transects starting at a single point in the most exposed area (entry to the bay).

group photo

soph and henry


Becca writing copy


jo quadrat

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This is how you should live your life. Or at least how I enjoy it.


With the post –exam glory of freedom and relief, whatever do is probably bound to be awesome. But add to it a bunch amazing friends, people who challenge  your way of thinking, some deep conversations, a guitar and a cave and you are on a way to making a memory you will remember on your death bed.

And the cave? It is not just some dump smelly cold bit of rock. Rather the opposite, a gorgeous terrace in the cliff overseeing the English Channel.  You can sit on the edge and think of how long it would take you to free-fall to the sea. It is a feeling of happiness to stare at the reflection of the moon while dangling your legs like a little child. With a cider and some red wine, ­­fire to warm your thoughts and candle lit cave there is no better place to be and no better company to have.

I woke up bright and early, only to discover that in fact it is so early that everyone else is fast asleep and not willing to change that. My mind is still rushing, a state enforced by the exam session. There is no internet connection, no phone signal. I didn’t bring any book with me and there is noone to talk to. I am alone with my thoughs, but haven’t practiced meditation in a while. And there is no better spot for that than a flat rock at the edge off a 17m cliff, in the sunshine, even at 6am.  Two hours later others woke up and we made banana pancakes. Breakfest of gods, I can tell you.

Climbing in Swanage is great, even if a bit polished at times (especially sport climbing). I had a go at a very steep 6b+ and managed to get to the top. Very interesting moves.  DWS in the afternoon sunlight was very picturesque, and Will even managed to fall into the water of the top of the Freeborn Man.

What a great weekend. Slightly sunburn, sore and extremely happy we returned to our lives. Or what in my case was packing for the next great adventure!








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How to have students enjoy your lectures? let them.

On the news recently is a story of how Finland constantly improves its education system and as a result has one of the best such systems in the world.  The country has just announced that by 2020, the plans are to phase out teaching individual subjects (Biology, Chemistry, Maths) and instead teach students by ‘topics’ or broad phenomena.

But you do not have to go to the far Scandinavia to look for improvements in learning and examples of innovative teaching. I am sure you can find some outstanding teachers who are doing their best to improve the system with their hard work. At the University of Southampton such example is, in my oppinion, Dr. Clive Trueman.

Dr. Clive is an outstanding lecturer, who constantly challanges, inspires and delivers excellent teaching without causing unnecessary stress.  How does he do it?

Dr. Clive changed the SOES3017 Fisheries module and for the first time this year it operated on new rules. We knew what exam questions to expect and were told to prepare answers in the free time, while the knowledge from lectures was not directly assessed.  That did not stop students from attending the lectures, since they were excellent and very intellectually stimulating.
Dr. Clive has got lots of positive energy, great contact with the audience and kept us all engaged and interested, albeit the topics discussed were often very complex. He made us think, not just reproduce knowledge.

Instead of having a stressful exam in a form of a memory test, the idea is to prepare and do the research in our own time. We are allowed to bring a page of notes into the exam, so there is no need to memorize the name of authors who published a given paper and the dates, something I never understood the point of. Instead you can focus on learning about the compex topics, do the extensive research and prove your understanding.

So hey, good teachers exist!

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We have got our first boat!

There are few important dates in your life: you are born, you first go to school, waste half of your life, you graduate, you get married, you buy your first boat… Wait, what? Surely you need to be rich to own a yacht? Well, that is what they say. But yachting on the cheap is possible, you just need determination, time and a lot of passion. Luckily Jake had all of those. He did his homework and a very extensive research and when the right opportunity presented itself he took it.

We were itching to go sailing since we came back from our last ocean adventure.

Today we moved her into the new mooring in Netley Abbey. So excited for this new project! It will need sanding down, fresh coat paint, antifaul. I also want to make the interior cozy. Bring on the summer!

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To marry or not to marry? This is the question – and what Darwin thinks about it.

I came across this on the introductory lecture about Evolution the other day. Found it quite hilarious and worth sharing.

What does a scientist do when he is about to make a decission? Well, he weighs the pros and cons. And that is exactly what Darwin did with the problem of getting married.

Have a look at the scan of his original notebook in which he wrote down a few thoughts about a marridge and concluded: Marry. Marry. Marry

Worth mentioning is the fact that he also noticed that having a wife is actually better than getting a dog… Good for him!

To marry or not - 2nd Note, MS Dar 210.8:2r, ©Cambridge University Library


Children—(if it Please God) — Constant companion,
(& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one,—
object to be beloved & played with.— —better than a
dog anyhow.— Home, & someone to take care of
house— Charms of music & female chit-chat.— These
things good for one’s health.—but terrible loss of
time. —

My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones
whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, &
nothing after all.— No, no won’t do.— Imagine living
all one’s day solitarily in smoky dirty London House.—
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with
good fire, & books & music perhaps— Compare this
vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St.
Marry—Mary—Marry Q.E.D.,

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked— choice of Society
& little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs—
Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every
trifle.— to have the expense & anxiety of children—
perhaps quarelling— Loss of time. — cannot read in
the Evenings— fatness & idleness— Anxiety &
responsibility— less money for books &c— if many
children forced to gain one’s bread.— (But then it is
very bad for ones health to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence
is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool –

And just to finish this post, perhaps it will come as quite a surprise to most of you: Darwin did not embark on the HMS Beagle as a scientist. In fact, he was employed as a ‘gentelman’ or basically a person with a high enough social status  for a captain to talk to (it was not appropriate to engage in a talk with a member of crew). Darwin was therefore captain’s buddy! And on side, a crazy naturalist, obsessed with collecting specimens.

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