Project code



School of Biological Sciences

Start dates

October 2023

Closing date

4 May 2023 (12.00pm GMT)

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2023.

The PhD will be based in the School of Biological Sciences and will be supervised by Dr Gordon Watson, Dr Andrew LundgrenDr Joanne Preston, Dr Sarah Marley and Dr David Petit (Deimos Space UK).

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for a Portsmouth Global PhD scholarship. Successful candidates will receive a scholarship to cover tuition fees at an international rate for three years, a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£15,609 for 2021/22), and one return flight to London during the duration of the course. Bursary recipients will also receive  £1,500 for project costs/consumables for the duration of the programme.

The work on this project will

  • Assess the current extent and quality of key coastal habitats.
  • Assess the current marine mammals linked with the habitats.
  • Evaluate key anthropogenic activities associated with these species / habitats and identify interactive effects.
  • Identify hot-spots to inform management policies to mitigate effects or increase conservation efficacy.

Coastal habitats (e.g. seagrasses, mud flats and saltmarshes) rank amongst the most productive ecosystems providing bird feeding areas, commercial fish grounds, as well as many other ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration and water quality regulation) (e.g. Watson et al., 2020). Critically, they also support marine mammals (e.g. dolphins feeding in seagrass, seals breeding on mudflats) (Chesworth et al., 2010; Strong et al., 2010).  These habitats and species are some of the UK’s most protected, but legislation has failed to prevent over-exploitation (e.g. fishing); direct damage (e.g. recreation activities); and pollution (e.g. shipping) leading to significant declines in habitat extent and quality and the numbers of mammals (e.g. Curtain et al., 2009; Murray et al., 2019,). 

Successful coastal management requires extensive habitat and species monitoring with assessments of key threats, but currently, relevant data are: not collected; difficult to access; or not visualised in a holistic way. Thus, management agencies currently make decisions without the best available evidence. Ultimately, without effective habitat-impact assessments, Net Biodiversity Gain (the central tenet of the UK government’s 25-year Environment plan) cannot be implemented.

Earth Observation (EO) technology is now at the forefront of ocean monitoring and has significant potential for addressing key marine challenges. Whilst the level of hardware in recent years (e.g. number of satellites) has increased dramatically, processing and using the substantial amounts of data generated have not kept pace. This project will develop, test and validate deep learning models based on the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation’s novel Global Earth Model (GEM) to assess the habitats and key threats within the Solent coastal system. This region only covers 150 km2, but is intensely fished; is a UK recreational hub and one of the busiest shipping areas globally. Therefore, it is an exemplar of damaging multi-user activities interacting with high levels of habitat and species protection. By addressing the following objectives, this PhD project will use cutting edge EO and computer modelling to develop effective management strategies that will meet future conservation, economic and social priorities across the UK and globally.


  1. Chesworth, J. C., Leggett, V. L. and Rowsell, E. S. 2010. Solent Seal Tagging Project Summary Report. Wildlife Trusts’ South East Marine Programme, Hampshire Wight Wildlife Trust.
  2. Curtin, S., Richards, S., & Westcott, S. (2009). Tourism and grey seals in south Devon: management strategies, tourists’ perceptions of disturbance. Current Issues in Tourism, 12(1), 59-81.
  3. Strong, P., & Morris, S. R. (2010). Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) disturbance, ecotourism and the Pembrokeshire Marine Code around Ramsey Island. Journal of Ecotourism, 9(2), 117-132.
  4. Watson, S.C., Preston, J., Beaumont, N.J. and Watson, G.J., 2020. Assessing the natural capital value of water quality and climate regulation in temperate systems. Sci. Tot Environ. 744, p.140688.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Gordon Watson ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BIOL6171021 when applying.