Researchers within Gordon Watson's lab focus on the interaction of humans with the marine environment. This is undertaken in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats from tropical reefs to intertidal soft sediments, but with particular emphasis on coastal areas.

Our current research

Human impact

Focussing on polychaetes and with funding from a number of EU projects our aim is to investigate the impact of pollutants on marine ecosystems.  Using a suite of different end points from behavioural changes to cellular and genetic biomarkers we aim to understand the impact on an individual, but also how this affects the benthic system.

Case study: Impact of algal mats on coastal habitats

A critical environmental challenge is that coastal waterbodies used by humans have elevated nutrient levels caused by inputs of fertilizers and human waste. This water quality reduction causes excessive growth of plants (termed eutrophication). Eutrophication results in the growth of green algal mats on intertidal mudflats covering thousands of hectares. These have ecological impacts, as well as economic and human health issues. 

The RaNTrans project funded by Interreg VA will be the first to develop and test innovative methods that will rapidly reduce algal mat coverage and contribute to reductions in nutrient levels. These include i) mechanical removal of algal mats; ii) feeding algal mats to polychaete worms and converting these to aquaculture feed; establishing and optimising iii) seaweed culture and; iv) European oyster aquaculture. The project will also develop novel uses of algal mats by extracting chemicals with human health benefits. By developing the business potential these outputs we will show how biodiversity preservation and environmental improvements can underpin regional job creation.

Case study: Impact of zinc and copper on invertebrates

The King ragworm, Alitta virens, is an ecologically and commercially important polychaete species of soft sediment inter-tidal communities throughout the northern hemisphere and is known to be impacted by various anthropogenic activities. Metals such as Cu and Zn are naturally present in the ecosystem but can be found at high levels due to industrial activities and therefore may have an impact on polychaete species. The objectives of the project are to: understand the effects of metal exposure o the ragworm using a suit of biomarkers (behavioural, biochemical and molecular).


The marine tropical marine aquarium trade is a global industry that sets a premium on diversity and rarity. Collection of live invertebrates from coral reefs has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Our research aims to improve the sustainability of the trade by investigating the culture, transport, function and value of species routinely traded.


Our group is at the forefront Marine Protected Area (MPA) and evaluation in the current UK marine conservation process. The protection of intertidal mudflats and the benthic community within them is a key goal of Special Areas of Conservation and European Marine Site legislation. 

Case study: Using earth observation to manage intertidal habitats

Using the Solent region on the south coast of England as a case study, the Total Ecosystem Management of the InterTidal Habitat (TEMITH) project aims to determine the feasibility of using Earth Observation technology to provide the key information for evidence-based decision making by stakeholders. The ability to detect and map three key pressures on intertidal habitats using EO data has been prioritised for this project. These include opportunistic macroalgal mats, which can indicate nutrient enrichment, sediment disturbance caused by bait collection, dredging, and boats, and wastewater plumes, which can encompass a range of pressures that may affect water quality. 

Case study: Assessing natural capital in the Solent

Our team has been working with the Environment Agency to map the key Solent biotopes to understand natural capital in terms of the function of habitats and key species in controlling water quality. This data set has resulted in a natural capital asset register that considers the extent of key habitats (such as mudflats, saltmarsh, seagrass, reedbeds among others) and species (Native oyster beds (Ostrea edulis). Not only will these maps benefit future research but they also have management applications in being able to consider stocks and flows of ecosystem services and what the impacts of anthropogenic activities (trawling, for example) might be.

Project funders

Research has been funded by a wide range of organisations including: the European Space Agency, Interreg EU, The Environment Agency, Natural England and the University of Portsmouth. We work with partners from industry, government, the public sector and charities to achieve our goal of improving the marine environment.

Current team members

  • Dr Katrin Bohn
  • Tony Evans
  • Beth Hawdon
  • Abbi Scott
  • Shannon White
  • Joanne Younger