[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.