Postgraduate Opportunity: Shark Diversity and Distribution Research Degree

The University of Essex's Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) programme is offering an exciting one-year opportunity for a postgraduate student to research the spatiotemporal diversity and distribution of sharks in Cape Verde nurseries through technologically advanced survey methods using UAVs, BRUVs, and eDNA metabarcoding. This candidate will also contribute to a greater understanding of climate change on coastal ecosystems, and will collaborate closely with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the world's first conservation organisation and a global leader in the field.

Date published: 2020/02/19

Program Information and Preferred Start Date:

This project runs under The University of Essex Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) programme in the School of Life Sciences. This is a one-year postgraduate degree that typically starts in October, but other start times can be negotiated (overseas applicants should allow additional time for visa processing). 

Project Summary:

Effective management of marine habitats depends on ecosystem-specific information including community structure and interactions between biotic and abiotic factors. Nursery areas are critical for the recruitment success of shark populations, and adequate protection of these habitats could increase survival and resilience. Based on long-term observations and interviews with fishermen in Cape Verde, several islands are assumed to be shark hotspots that support various nursery areas. Yet, detailed scientific information on diversity and distribution patters of sharks in this region is lacking.

This project will investigate the environmental and socioeconomic drivers of shark diversity and distribution within potential nursery areas in Cape Verde. We will employ three complementary survey methods to assess spatiotemporal shark abundance patterns: (1) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Surveys (UAVs), (2) Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys (BRUVS), and (3) eDNA metabarcoding. This data, in combination with information on environmental factors and catch and mark-recapture data, will be used to examine species-habitat associations and distribution patterns of selected shark species in nearshore environments and to quantify the drivers responsible for these patterns. Furthermore, we will assess the capacity of each of the employed survey methods to accurately detect and quantify shark diversity.

What the student will be doing:

The student will directly contribute to the collection of empirical data through the use of UAVs, BRUVS and eDNA metabarcoding at selected shark nursery areas at the islands of Brava and Maio, Cape Verde. The student will then work with this data set to quantify spatial and temporal changes in shark diversity and distribution, as well as to understand the underlying drivers of such changes in coastal habitats.    

Intermediate to advanced programming skills in R will be required at the start of the project. The student will work in close collaboration with the world’s first international conservation organisation, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), providing the opportunity to also gain valuable experience in conservation science. The project’s fieldwork will be facilitated by Biflores, a dynamic new NGO that protects the unique fauna and flora of Brava Island, jointly with FFI. Brava is a magnificent mountainous island in the southern island chain of Cape Verde and is nicknamed the “island of flowers.” It is pristine and authentic. Charismatic species include turtles, dragon trees and whale sharks. In-depth training in all field methods will be provided.


All field research costs (including travel) will be covered, but the student will need to find additional funding for the University of Essex research degree fee of £5103 (UK/EU) or £17,900 (international). We are happy to support international students in applying for country-specific external grants to cover these fees.

To learn the full specifics on funding and fees, click here


Visit the pages below to learn more about the supervisors who will oversee the project.

Dr. Julia Spaet - University of Cambridge

Dr. Gerrit Nanninga - University of Essex

Dr. Elisa Dierickx - Fauna and Flora International

Application deadline:

The position will remain open until filled.

To apply, please send your CV, a letter of interest, and names and contact details of two referees to: [email protected]

To learn more about the Cape Verde region and the conservation efforts underway there, visit Fauna and Flora International

Exciting postgraduate opportunity for early career conservationists! Interested? Check out our Early Career group to discuss more postgrad projects with your peers.

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