Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Team Member Phil Thomas

Phil Thomas has been living and working in the Falkland Islands for 12 months as a Senior Project Manager for Interserve Defence Ltd, starting in August 2011 on a 2 year tour.

[caption id="attachment_213" align="alignleft" width="224"]Phil Thomas Phil Thomas
British Forces South Atlantic Islands

Phil has been diving since 2001, diving in various locations around the world such as Egypt, Malta, Croatia, Thailand and the UK from the bleak inland quarry sites to the stunning South Devon coast. A keen UK diver enjoying the beautiful shore dives that the South Devon coast has to offer, concentrating on the smaller marine life amongst the gulley’s, rocks and kelp forests; on a sunny day with the play of light and shadows through the Kelp forests, the UK rivals any dive site in the world.

Since arriving in the Falklands Phil has been diving regularly with the Falkland Islands Sub Aqua Club (FISAC), officially the most Southerly dive club in the World! Enjoying some very challenging, yet rewarding dives in the cold South Atlantic waters

A BSAC Sports Diver, working towards his Dive Leader & Boat Handler qualifications. Phil is thrilled to be part of such an important research project in a challenging and remote marine environment.”

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Team Member Stedson Stroud

Stedson Stroud - Saving Ascension’s wildlife

Although he now heads up efforts to protect the wildlife of the British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island, Stedson Stroud. MBE has had an unusual journey into formal conservation.

[caption id="attachment_208" align="alignleft" width="300"]Stedson Stroud Stedson Stroud. MBE.
Conservation Officer - Ascension Island Government.

Born on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, Stedson developed an interest in the natural world at an early age. “My mum and dad, with a family of 10 children, brought us up on St. Helena living off the land with an organic and sustainable attitude towards biodiversity, so they were a real inspiration to me,” he explains. The interest that Stedson developed in horticulture, beekeeping and the natural world would stay with him throughout his life, and would play an important role in shaping his priorities.

During several nomadic years working throughout the world, Stedson took the time to speak to Naturalists, Conservationist, old farmers in many countries also beekeepers at Buck fast Abby, Devon UK , learning and recording their skills. When he returned to St. Helena as a trained beekeeper, field Vet, and tracker in 1991, Stedson made a remarkable discovery. One day, whilst following some bees up a gorge, Stedson came across a plant he had never seen before. Taking samples, he began to investigate and, working with St Helenian Botanist George Benjamin and the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew, discovered that it was an endemic bastard gumwood tree (Commidendrum rotundifolium), a plant long thought to be extinct. “Discovering a lone plant which was thought to have been extinct for over a hundred years spurred me into helping to propagate it, and get more of its kind back into the wild. Conservation became special to me.”

Some years after this first discovery, Stedson made another astonishing find, yet another endemic plant long thought to have gone extinct, the St. Helena endemic boxwood (Mellissia begonifolia). “Then I truly knew I had a career in conservation!” says Stedson.

Finally in 2003, Stedson made his way back to Ascension, initially as the Assistant Conservation Officer for the Ascension Island Government. As a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s South Atlantic Island Plant Specialist Group, Stedson faced many challenges. “Ascension’s endemic plants were uncared for. All of them were on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, some were extinct and some were on the brink of extinction, mostly due to the threats imposed by alien invasive plant species. We’ve set about clearing and restoring sites where invasive species have taken over, which is no easy task!”

Through careful propagation of the threatened endemic species, stable captive populations of many of these plants have now been established and efforts are underway to reintroduce more of them to suitable parts of the island. A few years ago Stedson and Botanist Dr Phil Lambton rediscovered the Ascension Endemic parsley fern Anagramma ascensionis on the south side of a steep cliff on Green Mountain this fern was on the IUCN Red List as extinct, it is now being cared for on Ascension and RBG Kew.
The island’s endemic plants were not the only species suffering from the impacts of invasive species. When it was first discovered, Ascension was thought to house around 20 million seabirds, with species including fairy terns, masked boobies, and the endemic Ascension frigate bird. But over the years this number dwindled to just a few thousand nesting on shore ledges and offshore stacks, mainly because the birds were being eaten by feral cats. To tackle this problem, Stedson helped with a feral cat eradication programme, which has led to several hundred pairs of seabirds returning to the mainland to nest for the first time in over 100 years. These pairs continue to breed successfully, and are re-establishing viable populations once more.

Despite these successes, Stedson remains concerned for the future of Ascension’s fragile wildlife, marine and terrestrial. Invasive species are still a major problem, and left unchecked threaten the survival of native plants, birds and animals. Human development is also a problem, with large parts of the island unprotected and vulnerable to damage. He and his team face a constant struggle to preserve what is left of Ascension’s unique environment, and to try and restore what has been lost.

Stedson has never lost sight of the beauty of the nature he works so hard to protect. “Seeing female green turtles slowly making their way up the beaches to lay their eggs after their long journey from Brazil, or watching the land crabs making their lengthy and dangerous trek from the top of Green Mountain down to the shore to deposit their eggs are hugely inspiring. Ascension boasts a wonderful array of biodiversity, from the turtles to sooty terns to our very own endemic shrimp found in larva pools. More than ever, conservation is needed to ensure the survival of these species."

Stedson looks forward to Paul Brickle and his Shallow Marine team and to be involved in this very important Darwin project.

Recent Comments
Guest — someonewhocares
Thank you for this inspirational read. Stedson is indeed a wonderful, interesting and very inspiring person. Thank you Stedson f... Read More
Monday, 24 September 2012 11:11 AM
Guest — Helen Marsh
Great to hear more about Stedsons work, and how he got started, having met him on Ascension Island last month. Hope to meet him ag... Read More
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 3:03 AM
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Team Members Sam and Nicola Weber

[caption id="attachment_175" align="alignleft" width="300"]Nicola Weber Dr Nicola Weber
University of Exeter & Ascension Island Government

Nicola and Sam Weber are Darwin Post-Doctoral Research Fellows at the University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government. They are based on Ascension where they are responsible for coordinating a Darwin Initiative project that will produce the first Biodiversity Action Plan for the Island. The project, which began in July, will bring together partner organisations from the UK, Sweden and Ascension to produce a series of Species Action Plans (SAP) for priority species that identify current threats and develop targeted strategies for their conservation. Prior to starting their present posts, Sam and Nicola were running an Overseas Territories Environment Programme project, which aimed to update population size estimates for nesting green turtles on Ascension Island and produce a revised management plan for this species.

[caption id="attachment_176" align="alignleft" width="225"]Sam Weber Dr Sam Weber
University of Exeter & Ascension Island Government

Sam first visited Ascension in 2007 as a PhD student at the University of Exeter to carry out research on the reproductive ecology of green turtles, and has been trying to find ways to come back ever since! Prior to starting his PhD, Sam also completed an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter. He is a keen recreational diver and is looking forward to surveying some of the remoter corners of Ascension’s coast as a part of the SMSG team. Nicola has a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology from the University of St Andrews where she carried out her dissertation with the Sea Mammal Research Unit studying the energetics of grey seals. She also learnt to dive here in the cold Scottish waters where she gained her BSAC Dive Leader qualification. After completing an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter, she remained there to carry out her PhD where she deployed proximity loggers to study the movement and contact patterns of the European badger and the implications that these have for the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Within this group expedition to Ascension Island, Nicola and Sam will be assisting with dive surveys where needed, but in terms of research they will be focussing primarily on the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles that are found in the near-shore habitats around Ascension. The hawksbills at Ascension are probably juveniles using it as a staging post before recruiting to adult feeding grounds in West Africa or Brazil, but compared to their more famous cousins the green turtles, very little is known about them. With the help of the SMSG team, Sam and Nicola are hoping to expand the flipper-tagging programme for hawksbills on Ascension to answer fundamental questions on population size, residence time and growth rate. They will also be taking DNA samples to help determine which nesting population(s) the juveniles around Ascension originate from, and collecting observational data on diet and distribution around the Island.

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Team Member Frithjof Kuepper

[caption id="attachment_169" align="alignleft" width="300"]Frithjof Kuepper Prof. Frithjof Kuepper
University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Frithjof has recently been appointed to the Chair in Marine Biodiversity at the University of Aberdeen, after previous appointments at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS; initially as Lecturer and Head of the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa from 2003 until late 2008, then as Reader).

Over the past 20 years, he has studied the chemical ecology, physiology, biochemistry and biodiversity of aquatic and marine plants/algae, especially in the context of biotic / abiotic stress and biogeochemical cycles, resulting in the publication of 60 peer-reviewed papers and 3 book chapters.

At pre-university level, he won international recognition with First Prizes at the European Community Contest for Young Scientists and at the Young Europeans' Environmental Research Competition. He received a French-German Ph.D. on brown algal stress responses and pathologies (1998-2001), working at the CNRS – Station Biologique de Roscoff (France), the University of Konstanz and at the Université de Paris-Sud XI / Orsay, supported by fellowships of the German Academic Merit Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) and of the European Commission (Marie Curie doctoral fellowship). He further studied the role of microbial metal chelators in marine ecosystems as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2001-3), where he remained a visiting professor in the Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology (EEMB) until 2010.

Besides pathologies, he is interested in algal halogen metabolism and the atmospheric impact of algal halogen emissions. This work resulted in the first-ever description of an inorganic antioxidant in a living system, iodide in kelp, and was selected as one of the 100 Science Stories of the Year 2008 by DISCOVER Magazine.

He has conducted and participated in expeditions and field trips with a scope in phycological / marine research throughout the world, notably to the Shetland Islands, French Polynesia, Malaysia, Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Japan, California, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, the Canadian Arctic, and, most recently, Antarctica (Adelaide Island) and Ascension Island.

He has been a member of the Editorial Board of Marine Biotechnology from 2004-2010 and he currently is a member of the Editorial Board of Algae, the Peer Review College of the UK Natural Environment Research Council, and he was a member of the Council of the British Phycological Society from 2004-2007. Frithjof is fluent in English, Modern Greek, French, and German.

Within the framework of this project in Ascension, Frithjof (jointly with Kostas Tsiamis) is particularly interested in establishing an inventory of Ascension’s macroalgae and in understanding some of the major questions of algal benthic ecology around Ascension, including why coralline red algae (rather than corals) dominate much of the benthos, and whether deeper parts of the euphotic zone of Ascension’s benthos might harbour kelp populations.

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Guest — Journal of Biotechnology
Hearty Congrats.....It's great reading your article.
Friday, 27 July 2012 2:02 PM
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Team Member Simon Browning

[caption id="attachment_138" align="alignleft" width="274"]Simon Browning Lt Col. Simon Browning
British Forces South Atlantic Islands

Simon graduated from Swansea University in Environmental Biology, sharing a room, for one term, with Dave Barnes, before heading to Ireland delivering research support to Matt Murphy at Sherkin Island, where he led the Littoral Flora and Fauna survey team, red seaweeds his specialisation. Refocus set him towards the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; successful commission sent him to far flung destinations with the Royal Logistics Corps including Belize, Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and finally to the Falkland Islands.

His passion for marine biology never far from the meniscus; enthralled by the biodiversity of places such as Belize, Falklands and UK, diving is central to his core interests. Whilst in the UK he enjoyed contributing to Seasearch UK diving around the south coast recording worm casts, biodiversity and marine habitats.

A diver of over 24 years he is a BSAC Dive Leader and boat handler. Simon has been diving regularly with both the Shallow Marine Surveys Group and the Falkland Island Sub Aqua Club for the last 12 months, fascinated by the diverse marine life and enthralled by the Fur Seals and Sea Lions.

The opportunity to be part of an auspicious scientific diving project to Ascension Island will undoubtedly be a pinnacle event and leading the contribution to logistic planning professionally satisfying.

Simon’s philosophy logistics, the power behind the punch

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Team Member Sarah Browning

[caption id="attachment_132" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sarah Browning Sarah Browning
Falkland Islands Sub Aqua Club (FISAC)

Sarah has been living in the Falkland Islands for just under 12 months, coming here with her husband Simon in August 2011 on a 2 year tour. She is the Falkland Islands Sub Aqua Club (FISAC) Treasurer and Secretary.

Sarah has been diving since 2004, diving all over the world in wonderful locations such as the Maldives, Oman, Tobago, Malta and the UK from Scotland to Cornwall to the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. A keen conservationist, Sarah has undertaken a number of dives with Sea Search UK around the south coast enjoying activities such as recording marine life and habitats and helping to mark out an artifical reef. She was also a volunteer with the Episkopi Turtle watch in Cyprus during a three year posting there where, amongst other things, she enjoyed the excitement of camping overnight on beaches waiting for turtles to come ashore to lay eggs.

Since arriving in the Falklands Sarah has been diving regularly with both the Shallow Marine Surveys Group and the FISAC, enjoying the pristine South Atlantic waters and diverse marine life, as well as slowly overcoming her fear of very large sea lions close up!

A BSAC Dive Leader, Assistant Instructor and Boat Handler she is looking forward to participating in this exciting project and getting some Ascension Islanddives in her dive log.

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Guest — Linda Foulkes-Stokes
Hi Sarah - was searching for something totally different and got you! Hi from everybody you know at Epi Turtlewatch and belated c... Read More
Saturday, 12 January 2013 7:07 PM
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Latest Posts

Latest Comments

Dave John Hunting seaweeds around Ascension
31 August 2013
Great to see underwater photos of this very unusual submarine environment where the ubiquitous black...
Helen Marsh Team Member Stedson Stroud
03 July 2013
Great to hear more about Stedsons work, and how he got started, having met him on Ascension Island l...
Simon Plummer Volunteer Ecological Surveyors
10 June 2013
I can’t stop smiling thinking of what a brilliant time you are having. The fact that I can visualise...
Simon Plummer Black triggerfish anecdotes
10 June 2013
An enjoyable and funny read, thank you steve for making me chuckle.
Simon Plummer Ascension Island fish record
10 June 2013
The photos are brilliant, envious.


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