Ocean Biology

Ocean Biology

Our ocean is a huge heat sink and absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide. The ocean plays a central role in mitigating climate change. Researchers from the Marine Biological Association focus on the impact this has on ocean biology, from plankton to sharks. Our research on spatial dynamics of marine life, environmental changes and human impacts provides scientific evidence that can improve our understanding of the marine food web and environment; and help the effective management of the ocean.

Movement Ecology and Conservation of Ocean Predators – Sims Lab


Tracking the movements and behaviour of ocean predators to understand responses to changing environments and human threats

Research Lead – Professor David Sims

We track individual free-ranging sharks and other top predators using advanced telemetry and bio-logging techniques integrated with environmental data to develop models and simulations for understanding movement patterns, behavioural strategies and drivers of distributions. Understanding the complexities of shark movements and distributions with respect to changing environment and anthropogenic threats is crucial for improving conservation. 

Global Shark Movement Project bringing together 40 shark research teams spread across more than 100 institutes in 26 countries. 

OCEAN DEOXYFISH project funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant. Read more about the project here and watch a video here.  

Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey – Johns


Long-term large-scale plankton monitoring programme tracking impacts of environmental change on ocean health.

Research Lead – David Johns

The CPR Survey is a global leader in assessing the impacts of environmental change on our oceans. Using a mechanical sampling device, a Continuous Plankton Recorder, monthly plankton samples have been collected across vast swathes of ocean since 1931. The Survey has operated in every ocean, covering more than 7 million nautical miles, and in 2021 was awarded a Guinness World Record for the greatest distance sampled by a monitoring programme. CPR data are freely available, driving better understanding of themes including climate change, human health, fisheries, biodiversity, invasive species and ocean acidification, and better management of the marine environment.

Biophysics of a Changing Ocean: From Plankton to Predators


Applying ocean observation technologies to understand ecological dynamics in a changing ocean.

Research Lead – Dr Lilian Lieber

We use ocean observation technologies to understand complex and scale-dependent dynamics between biophysics and marine organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to seabirds and sharks.

This research helps to gain a predictive understanding of animal behavioural responses to a changing ocean, which includes anthropogenic activity such as ocean energy and the impacts of ocean warming.

Our approaches include the innovative use of aerial drones, bioacoustics and underwater imaging systems deployed from boats, seabed frames, buoys, or autonomous vehicles.


Ocean Biology Research Fellows

Professor David Sims

Professor David Sims, Mem.MBA, MAE

Senior Research Fellow

Professor David Sims, Mem.MBA, MAE

Senior Research Fellow

Professor David Sims

dws@mba.ac.uk

I have a lifelong interest in the behaviour, ecology and conservation of ocean predators. My research career began in 1991 with studies on the ecophysiology of feeding in small-spotted catsharks, completed in part at the Marine Biological Association. I embarked in 1995 on what has become a 25 year study of basking shark behavioural ecology. In 2001, shortly after joining the MBA as Research Fellow, we obtained the first long-term satellite trackings of basking sharks showing that they do not hibernate in winter, exhibit regional annual site fidelity, and cross national boundaries frequently, results which contributed to their international protection under CITES (2003) and CMS (2006) listings. Since 2001 I have studied the movement ecology of oceanic sharks and other threatened fish in relation to climate change and fishing. In 2016 I initiated the Global Shark Movement Project, a collaboration of over 150 scientists across 26 countries, aimed at tracking movements and changing habitats of pelagic sharks and quantifying the threats they face. We revealed where large spatial overlaps between sharks and longline fisheries and shipping occurred, demonstrating how threatened populations are most impacted. Awards for our research include the FSBI Medal (2007) and the Marsh Award for Marine Conservation (2019).

Research Group: Ocean Predator Movement Ecology and Conservation

Dr Lilian Lieber, Mem.MBA

Research Fellow

Dr Lilian Lieber, Mem.MBA

Research Fellow

lilian.lieber@mba.ac.uk

I’m a marine ecologist passionate about using technology to understand and communicate complex patterns and processes in our ocean. My interest in ocean observation technologies began 10 years ago when I explored imaging sonars to visualise basking sharks as part of my MASTS Prize PhD at the University of Aberdeen. My research has since focused on quantifying bio-physical drivers underlying ocean predator foraging in the context of a changing ocean. I embrace opportunities for inter-disciplinary knowledge exchange to find innovation in tools applied elsewhere. This includes the use of aerial drones demonstrating that seabird foraging is driven by localised physical features enhancing prey availability, or the use of acoustic instrumentation (echosounders, ADCPs) to quantify interactions between predators and dynamic or patchy bio-physics. A long-term vision of my research effort is the stepwise integration of acoustic sensors with biological sampling, thereby capturing essential ocean variables ranging from microscopic plankton to large vertebrates. From previous positions at Queen’s University Belfast, Bangor University and research expeditions with St Andrews University, I have an in-depth knowledge of in-situ data collection. I joined the MBA in 2023 and started a joint appointment as a Senior Research Fellow with the University of Plymouth in 2024.

Research Group: Biophysics of a Changing Ocean: From Plankton to Predators

Clare Ostle

Dr Clare Ostle

CPR Research Fellow, Coordinator Pacific CPR Survey

Dr Clare Ostle

CPR Research Fellow, Coordinator Pacific CPR Survey

Clare Ostle

claost@mba.ac.uk

I am a marine biogeochemist and the co-ordinator of the Pacific Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey. My research covers a range of topics from the marine carbonate system to ocean plastics. I have worked closely with the CPR dataset since my undergraduate project at Swansea University where I analysed changes in copepod abundance and distribution across the North Atlantic. My PhD was based at the University of East Anglia where I investigated how the activity and abundance of plankton may influence the variability of carbon dioxide flux in the North Atlantic. This work led to the development of a method for estimating Net Community Production (NCP) using volunteer ships of opportunity and oxygen optodes and piqued my interest in instrument development and sampling enhancements for the CPR. I have been involved in numerous syntheses reports and working groups, covering topics such as the operationalization of ecological indicators for European marine policy, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. I am an active member in the UK Pelagic Habitat Expert Group, the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON), Gulf Watch Alaska and The North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES).

Our Science

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Ecology

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Biology