Partnering with Industry

Jessica Adams was awarded a returning fellowship grant by The Low Carbon Energy and Environment Network Wales which gave her the space to pursue collaboration with an up-and-coming industry.

Jessica was already making great headway through her research into feedstocks at Aberystwyth University, but being granted a returning fellowship from the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Network Wales enabled her to renew her passion for the myriad applications of seaweed!

Why seaweed? This huge group of organisms is more varied that the casual term ‘seaweed’ would give them credit for. Consider that there are three times more known species of ‘seaweed’ than the number of plant species found living around the whole of Britain.

Within this great variety there are three broad types of seaweed, or algae, with difference compositions that confer different properties on those species. There are brown seaweeds, which contain alginate, used in many of the products we use daily from stabilisers and thickeners in food, to additives in paper and textiles. The red seaweeds, contain carrageenan which is also used in the food industry as a thickening agent as well as to produce agar plates used for scientific and medical study. The green algae are less used than the reds and browns, but contain different compounds again such as ulvan. All seaweeds have low fats, some protein, dietary fibre and take up micronutrients from the environment around them making them a healthy addition to diets.

Seaweeds have roles in a number of other areas as well. For example, scientists are researching a certain tropical red seaweed, which when included in the diets of sheep and cattle has been shown to reduce methane emissions by these animals by up to 80% – a phenomenon which could have a massive influence on the carbon footprint of the farming industry.

The carbon naturally locked-up by seaweed is significant too. As algae grow, like trees, they capture and store carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. As bits of the seaweed break off or are naturally released some of these parts reach the deep ocean where they will remain for over 100 years. The carbon they held in their composition is, at this point, considered sequestered. An average of 11% of the algae are turned into a carbon store in this way. If more, large seaweed farms were established and deep ocean sequestration (sinking) were enhanced, this could also significantly reduce the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions we release each year.

Jessica’s research is aimed at taking the humble seaweed and exploring its use in a wide range of other, usually higher value products.

“Seaweed farming is a growing sector around the world, with the main application as a food source and additive, but with a great deal of potential in other areas. I am often working in collaboration with companies to help them scale up their production using our pilot-scale biorefinery, enabling the UK seaweed industry to increase in viability.”

Importantly, if seaweed cultivation in the UK and Europe can become financially viable, the wild algae can be left to fulfil their important niche in the oceans and coastal zones, including sequestering carbon as an ally against climate change; protecting our coastlines; providing rich habitats for young fish and other animals that rely on them for food and shelter; cleaning up our waters from excess nutrients and providing tourist amenities e.g. for divers and snorkelers.

“The funding from the network enabled me to develop a seaweed-based research plan; to attend conferences and meetings to learn current thinking and developments; and to develop and maintain networks with academic and industrial contacts in the area of seaweed and seaweed processing. As time has moved on, this has put me in a good position to work with the UK seaweed industry as it develops and grows as well as more fundamental seaweed science research. I currently have two PhD students and two recently-completed PhD students all working on aspects of seaweed utilisation, with more on the way. I also have a fantastic Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow working with me, an MRes student and two undergraduate project students – all on seaweeds!”

While Jessica believes the returning fellowship scheme gave her the impetus to gain all this people-power and to garner further funding, one remaining key consequence has been the collaborations with industry that have arisen.

Jessica has been part-funded since 2010 by the European Regional Development Fund through the project BEACON. A core strength of this project has been working with small and medium sized Welsh industries to develop new products and processes; using lab-scale and pilot-scale equipment and knowledge. Through BEACON and her previous contacts she has been able to make tangible differences to a number of seaweed utilising, producing and processing companies to help them scale up their ambitions.

Working with Oceanium, a Scottish company, Jessica’s team have processed hundreds of kilogrammes of seaweed from raw to final products, using the pilot-scale biorefinery. Whilst the outputs remain under wraps at this point in time, it shows that UK seaweeds can be upscaled to products meeting industrial needs.

Jessica’s work, and that of her team, continues with seaweed research venturing into diverse fields of plant biostimulants, novel seaweed-derived bioplastics, prebiotics, novel enzymes to degrade seaweed and new methods of extraction from seaweeds.

“Seaweeds have been used as food, fodder, fertiliser and fibres for millennia, but we have forgotten or disregarded so much over the last 100 years or so. Seaweeds are responsible for so many useful compounds, I am delighted that the UK seaweed industry is growing so much at this time as collectively much of these uses can be reimagined. Seaweed is also finding new niches, such as for potentially reducing methane emissions in cattle and as an alternative carbon sink; who knows what else may lead from seaweed? I am certain that the Returning Fellowship I received from the research network helped put me in a better position academically, enabling me to then put Welsh businesses and researchers at the front of this research field”.

Placing Wales at the fore of marine renewable energy

Led by Professor Simon Neill, Quotient was a research cluster brought together by funding from the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales. Hear how support for innovative research at the right time has enormous knock-on effects for UK industry and economy.

It may well be true that “time and tide wait for no man” and so it would make sense to use the constant provision of energy offered to us by the tide.

With the resource potential of marine renewable energy being dramatically underdeveloped around the world, it had to be quantified to establish if it would play a valuable role in the transition to low carbon energy.

Back in 2013, scientists from Bangor University, Cardiff University and Swansea University came together to establish what marine energy resources were held around the UK, how they could best be optimised and how the environmental impacts of the technology could be minimised.

Based at Bangor University in North Wales, Professor Simon Neill led the cluster of experts.

“This was a highly collaborative  and complementary process between the universities. It really did strengthen our bonds and enable projects to succeed and progress. I would now naturally work pan-Wales to better achieve my research goals.”

Bangor took the lead with their expertise in oceanography, whereas Cardiff brought in their engineering prowess, and Swansea complemented all of this with their mastery of computational dynamics. Between the three universities they were able to determine which marine areas had the best energy potential, what devices might best be able to capture that energy, and also how this energy conversion might affect the surrounding environment and the equipment itself.

Aside from the benefits gained by working with an extended research group, Simon felt that the investment in people was an immeasurable gain from the funding and formation of the research clusters. A PhD student at Cardiff University and a postdoctoral researcher at each of Bangor and Swansea Universities had a great effect on the outputs of the research.

Simon in particular, worked alongside the Bangor University ‘postdoc’ Matt Lewis who used computer modelling to determine where marine renewables should be placed. In particular, they examined how waves and tides interact with one another, and how turbulence affected device performance.

“a research fellow like this is the best sort of funding you can get”

Key outcomes from the cluster included characterising how floating tidal devices perform in differing conditions, in-depth insight into the site-specific factors that affect turbulence from underwater turbines, identification of the optimal sites for tidal arrays around the UK, leading the research agenda towards realistic site conditions rather than idealised experiments and establishing the extent at which wave conditions and turbulence affect reliability of underwater devices.

Whilst the initial Quotient cluster work had plenty of positive research and material outcomes of its own, it also laid the way to garner further funding support for the area of research. The £7million European Smart Efficient Energy Centre (SEEC) project, which sees members of the devised clusters now working together in a hub, spans nuclear and marine energy as well as understanding the importance of energy efficient and composite structures within the two sectors and in general.

Under the SEEC project, Simon and his colleagues investigated dispersal of marine plastics and conducted investigations into wind energy resource. This involved working with industry at a time when the sector became a prominent focus for the UK government. As a result of this, Simon and his team worked on a Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence (MEECE) project to ‘place Wales and Welsh companies at the heart of the UK’s growing marine and offshore renewable energy sectors’.

“90% of the world’s tidal energy resources is distributed across just five countries, one of them being the UK.”

Considering the reliability of tidal energy, it’s believed that a major barrier to its development is in setting up the technology in the first place. Whilst there are financial incentives in place to assist implementation of other low-carbon energy supplies, Simon hopes that the research he and others have undertaken will pave the way for marine renewable energy initiatives to come into fruition and from there take hold as a viable and successful energy source for the UK.

Simon and his fellow researchers have now worked alongside companies proposing underwater turbines off the coast of the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales and the south coast of Cornwall. Their research is helping the companies further understand the resource and optimise their arrays of devices for the environment.

Simon’s work conducted under the SEEC project and under the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network before that also paved the way to expand IMARDIS, an open access database initially developed to support the expansion of the marine renewables sector under the SEACAMS2 project. Here they share high resolution data on the seabed and in the water column. Importantly, this database may help to stimulate growth in the marine renewables sector around Wales by removing some of the expensive information barriers placed in front of industry.

Simon’s story shows that having access to capacity building funds can have wide-reaching, knock-on effects. Enabling our scientists to capitalise on research at the right time puts Welsh research at the fore.

Global implications of Welsh research

The Resilicoast cluster, featuring scientists from universities around Wales was instituted to forge the multidisciplinary aspects of ecosystem resilience and coastal planning as synergistic partners. Funded by the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales the partners set out to quantify natural flood protection and the value of wetland ecosystems. Hear how funding research in Wales led to global impact.

It seems that Wales’ coastal saltmarshes are an overlooked landscape feature by many, when in fact they are responsible for a great deal of climate change mitigation and flood prevention as well as a vital habitat for wildlife.

Research taking place here, on Welsh saltmarshes, is leading the way for flood and habitat resilience around the world. Photo © Tom Fairchild

Human development of the land and our coast affects saltmarshes in every way. Whether that be changed sediment from upstream dams and farming or man-made coastal flood defences which are designed to protect the urban communities that have built-up along our shorelines; each action alters the dynamic habitat with its natural ability to attenuate storm surges and hold carbon stores.

The Resilicoast team, from institutions around Wales and beyond, came together to establish the resilience and value of saltmarshes; from how they are perceived in society to the quantifiable affects they have on flood mitigation, how they are affected by human practices and to establish when they are best able to sequester the largest amount of carbon.

Dr John Griffin from Swansea University entered the team from an ecology perspective, concerned with how biodiversity and species interactions affect the functioning of coastal ecosystems.

“Salt marshes are over-looked and taken for granted. Historically they’ve been thought of as wastegrounds. In reality, they offer Wales protection from floods, mitigate the effects of floods and are important carbon stores”.

The initial funding from the research network allowed John’s side of the team to expand and seek further funding sources to explore the role of estuarine saltmarsh plants in holding back the tide. Multidisciplinary collaboration was a key aspect of this expansion, working with Professor Harshinie Karunarathna, an expert in numerical modelling of coastal environments, in Swansea University’s civil engineering department.

“Previously, we’d only looked at marshes on coastal edges. Now, we were able to examine how the plants along the estuary were able to reduce storm surges by causing drag along the full distance of the saltmarsh from the coastal river mouth back inland.” Photo © Tom Fairchild

“Using data on saltmarshes around Wales, we modelled different storm scenarios around our coast and looked at how the surges affected upriver flooding. Within each scenario we tested the model with and without saltmarshes. We saw that where estuarine salt marshes were present, the average flooding extent was reduced by 35%!”

There’s a financial benefit to flood protection from saltmarshes too. The direct annual cost saving of merely having saltmarshes present on an estuary is £8 million in terms of reduced mitigation activities and knock on costs of floods on people and their livelihoods.

“There was a snowball affect from the funding we received to set up the Resilicoast cluster of researchers. Firstly, we brought in people at the PhD and post-doc level, having an immediate impact on their careers personally as well as affording us the scope to expand our research. Secondly, we built up our expertise in the field which enabled us to draw in more money from larger funding sources. All of this meant we gained momentum and were able to branch out into new research strands.”

Today, the modelling methodology created by the cluster is being used by the Office for National Statistics who consulted with the Resilicoast team to apply the methods more broadly to estimate saltmarsh food attenuation values on a national scale.

“Following hurricane Irma in the United States, RESILICOAST gave use the momentum and expertise to apply for a NERC Urgency grant to investigate what factors support post-hurricane recovery of dunes”

The team’s work in the aftermath of the hurricane has shown that storm wrack, the biological debris left in the wake of a storm, actually supports recovery of the coastline. Their research showed that storm wrack enables the stabilising plant matter to grow better, resulting in dunes recovering to a higher level than where the wrack may have been ‘tidied’ away. A systematic review conducted by the team shows that wide plant diversity also supports post-storm recovery.

“If planners can take biological aspects like this into account, they can better prepare their people and lands from storm damage”.

Members of the cluster subsequently worked with Plymouth Marine Lab on a UKRI NERC funded project, Coastweb, looking further into coastal protection and wave attenuation as well as the benefits of saltmarsh environments to human health and wellbeing.

A related PhD research opportunity that sprung out of the cluster was investigating the impact of grazing on saltmarsh ecosystems around the world. Researcher Kate Davidson amalgamated saltmarsh information from previous studies on European sites and in the Americas to establish the effect of horse, cattle and sheep grazing on the species which could be found there. Whilst there were nuances to each site, she found that overall plant diversity was often increased by grazing activity. Conversely, grazing generally negatively affected the number of plant-eating insects found at each site.

“It’s possible that the reduced numbers of invertebrates on grazed salt marshes has a negative effect on the fish and crustaceans that feed in these marshy areas.”

Kate Davidson

Kate went on to further research in the same area, shifting her attention to the pollinators that rely on the saltmarsh communities across Wales.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “Saltmarshes can support extensive flowering meadows, and during a time of global pollinator decline it’s incredibly important to identify which habitats are valuable to them”.

Kate’s research showed that where saltmarshes were grazed, the plants would often not reach flowering stage, rendering those particular plants of no value to pollinators. The consequent reduction in flowers was shown to reduce overall bee abundance and to reduce the number of different bee species that would use a site. Relative to an ungrazed site, bee numbers on grazed marshes were halved. When the site was intensively grazed that number was reduced in half again.

“To protect our native bees, we now recommend that ungrazed marshes remain ungrazed and that where saltmarsh grazing occurs it is maintained at a low-level”

Kate Davidson
Saltmarshes, like any other habitat are complex. We’re now starting to unpick their intricacies with innovative research around Wales leading the way for countries around the globe. Photo © Tom Fairchild

Taking Carbon Capture and Storage from the lab to reality

Professor Andy Mitchell was the Lead Principal Investigator of Geo-Carb-Cymru, a collection of researchers funded by the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales working together to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The cluster consisted of researchers from Aberystwyth University and Cardiff University, National Museum Wales, British Geological Survey, and international partners. Discover how seed-funding led to research implementation on a commercial scale.

It’s hard to imagine, but life still continues in Earth’s most extreme environments.

With bacteria surviving at great pressures in ice, deep underground and far underwater, how can we utilise their extraordinary abilities for our own benefit?

Andy Mitchell and his colleagues at Aberystwyth University and beyond have been delving into the subject, using what we know about these ‘extremophiles’ to deduce engineered solutions to problems that our society is facing.

The initial focus of the Geo-Carb-Cymru Cluster, formed by under the first phase of the research network, was two-fold; how can we use microbes to help us capture and store carbon to prevent climate change, and how can we exploit Wales’ plentiful disused mines to tap into a low-carbon energy source.

Both streams of work have been very successful, leading to continued research outputs alongside expertise and real-world applications.

Here, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the idea of geologic carbon capture and storage.

The phrase ‘carbon capture and storage’ is wide-reaching. From the carbon captured from the air by plants and stored in their structures, to actively capturing the carbon emissions from industry to be stored in deep underground. Whatever the method, scientists agree that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is vital in our efforts to first halt, and then reverse, our carbon emissions.

Geologic CCS in particular involves pumping pressurised carbon dioxide deep underground as a way of preventing it adding to atmospheric pollution. It’s thought that this alone could reduce global carbon emissions by 19%.

Andy and his team wanted to explore the potential for deploying the solution in Wales.

By creating high-resolution 3D maps of the deep rock structures beneath the seabed around Wales, the team was able to identify the eastern Irish Sea as a region of particular suitability; offering a low-risk location which could offer 10% of the UK’s underground carbon storage potential.

Another key aspect of the work was to assess the role of microbes in helping to stabilise stored carbon at these depths.

The particular microbe under the microscope in this case, was Sporosarcina pasteurii, a naturally occurring soil bacteria                                                       that produces hard calcium carbonate as a by-product of their own energy production technique.

If these carbonate-forming bacteria could be injected underground with the captured carbon dioxide, could they turn CO2 into a solid?

Taking advantage of advanced data processors and microbial genetic information, Andy and his team were able to develop new models to assess just this. The models considered thermal, hydraulic, chemical, gas and mechanical activity as well as microbial interactions with other cells, and from rock pores to entire rock formations.

The carbonates formed by the bacteria act as an adhesive between tiny pores.

Utilising the soil microbes to make underground ‘cement’ was shown as an effective method to seal fissures which may occur during the CCS process (fissures being potential means for the gases to escape back into the atmosphere, reducing the efficiency of the approach to combat emissions).

After extensive modelling and experiments in the laboratory, the Geo-Carbon-Cymru team worked with partners at Montana State University in the United States and were able to take the work from lab to field-scale with real-life demonstrations taking place in Alabama in 2019.

With results showing that the Sporosarcina pasteurii sealed underground fissures more effectively than any traditional engineering technology to date, the concept was quickly put into commercial use in the United States.

Back in the UK and we are seeing the implementation of four new carbon storage hubs, one of which is located in the North-west of England and North Wales, which will see CCS take place in the eastern Irish Sea off Liverpool.

“Our work, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey, has helped to identify and assess carbon storage capacity in Liverpool Bay. Whilst there were many other research activities that contributed to the new carbon storage hubs, our modelling helped lay the path for this emissions-reducing initiative”

Andy Mitchell

And this is just one stream of success that has arisen from funding administered by the research network. Andy believes that the people and expertise amassed during the initial phases of both the CCS project and its’ counterpart assessing disused mines for groundwater heating, enabled the research team to reach the critical mass of resources for being the go-to academics for microbial geochemical reactions in extreme environments.

You’ll now find Andy and his colleagues on frosty ice-sheets as well as exploring the depth beneath our feet as they continue the quest to discover life that harbours the answers to many of our questions.

From small fry to a big catch

The AquaWales cluster was a collaborative initiative between Cardiff University, Swansea University, Aberystwyth University, and Natural Resources Wales amongst other partners. It was funded by the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales to advance the field of sustainable aquaculture. Read on to hear more about the linear progression from funding, through people-power to career success.

Amy Ellison was an early career researcher

when she joined the AquaWales cluster

of scientists from across Welsh universities.

Based in Cardiff she was part of the team investigating the stresses on farmed fish as a response to the increased demand for aquaculture, the world’s fastest growing food sector.

“Around 1 billion people on the planet are relying on fish farming as their primary source of protein”

As a part of the project, we studied the genes of rainbow trout and tilapia to better understand what role they play in affecting their health in stressful environments”.

AquaWales PI Professor Jo Cable

With the importance of farmed fish to food security around the world, there are well documented problems with the process that AquaWales were seeking to address. Funding from the research network allowed the interested parties to invest in a dedicated team to directly pursue real-world issues that would have a tangible effect on the fish-farming industry and natural environment going forward.

The team were able to conclude that the stocking density of fish in farms affects the expression of their genes; one example being that they are less able to fight off disease when not stocked at an optimal density reflective of their natural communities.             

The unanticipated result was that it appeared that the artificial light periods used to rear fish in farms was actually affecting their genes too, translating into tangible effects on the fishes’ health.

To further the understanding of how artificial light affects the health of fish, Amy was successfully awarded a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council fellowship under the UK Research and Innovation scheme.

The concept underpinning Amy’s research is that of the circadian rhythm – the ‘body clock’ that we refer to in aspects of our life when we’re talking about jet lag or choosing not to eat late in the evening.

This rhythm is present in all living things and in animals enables sleep at the right time, effective immune responses and hormone release. Research into genomes in the past decades has shown that these daily rhythms are directly controlled by our genes. The genes responsible, therefore, have been named ‘clock genes’.

"What we’ve seen in our trials, is that artificial light regimes in fish farms is actually disrupting how the clock genes function."

With circadian rhythm being so important for health and immune responses, the artificial light is having a direct effect on the wellbeing of the animals being farmed.”

Amy Ellison

With little known about how clock genes affect non-mammalian species, Amy’s research is pivotal. With global aquaculture set to supply over 60% of the fish destined for human consumption by 2030 and Welsh fisheries alone contributing £30 million a year to local economies, the need to perfect fish-farming is urgent.

But why use artificial light in fish farms at all? Like any business, the farms are seeking to make profit and using artificial light encourages fish feeding and growth around the clock, increasing yields.


Amy and her fellow researchers have been working with the fish farming industry to better understand how aquaculture may be affecting the health and success of their product with a knock-on benefit to the health of the ecosystems these farms inhabit.

Artificial light is not the only stressor shown to effect clock gene expression in captive fish. Having lice, a common side-effect for fish in the farm environment, was yet another determinant. How do light, feeding regimes, circadian rhythms, parasites and gut microbes all interact to affect fish health?

Taking her research to Bangor University in the north of Wales, Amy has continued to explore how stresses impact farmed fish and their immune systems on a molecular level.

Her research published in 2021 shows that, rainbow trout reared under constant light were not significantly different in size to those provided with standard day and night light levels.           

In addition, the fish reared under constant light suffered a higher lice burden; suggesting that they were mounting a less efficient immune response than those reared in normal light conditions.

“Overall, our findings show that rearing fish in an environment with an absence of light cues is detrimental to their health”

Aside from the effects on farmed fish, Amy is keen to point out that this has a bearing on the health of wild fish too. With light pollution affecting 22% of the world’s coastal areas, what effect will this be having on the circadian rhythms of the animals there, and consequently, how is this affecting their health and immune responses? This is a question currently being explored by a collaboration between Bangor University, Aberystwyth University and the Plymouth Marine Lab.

Amy is now a lecturer in the Bangor University School of Natural Sciences and lead of the university “One Health” research theme. Her research group continues to further our understanding of host-parasite interactions, with current projects examining the use of chronobiology in aquaculture, the impact of light pollution on wild animal health, and the interactions of amphibian immune systems and their beneficial skin microbes.

“Without a doubt, the stimulation of investment that our initial Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales grant enabled was vital to a great many research outcomes for us. The careers of researchers like Amy are a clear example of how, with the right support, our research excellence shines through”

Jo Cable, Cardiff University & Principal Investigator of the AquaWales cluster of researchers.

Diving back into world-class research after a short break

Find out how a returning fellowship grant awarded by The Low Carbon Energy and Environment Network Wales allowed Dr Sindia Sosdian to expand her network and specialisms.

From ancient marine fossils to modern Malaysian clams, Cardiff University researcher and surfer, Sindia Sosdian explores the ocean throughout the world and time.

Her passion for the ocean is more than just a hobby; as a researcher she’s focussed on the health of coral reef systems and how corals cope with changes in environment such as warming and land based pollution over time.
After taking two spells of maternity leave, Sindia was able to take advantage of the research networks returning fellowship scheme to propel her back to the fore of her research area; a scheme which Sindia believes was vital to enabling her to develop and diversify.

“I benefitted dramatically from the returning fellowship grant. Taking time out from teaching and having money set aside for travel meant that I was able to forge ties in Fiji and Malaysia which have led to new samples, underpinning novel research as well enabling various studentships and even exploring a new technology in my lab”.

Aside from the obvious benefits, it’s the intangible benefits of this sort of support that Sindia cites as invaluable.

“It was also the value of the fellowship itself. Someone thought my work and time was critical for marine science”

“Having a pause in teaching to get my feet back on the ground was a game changer for me. I felt valued as a member of the academic community which boosted my confidence and allowed me the flexibility to pursue my research with renewed vigour”.

Sindia's study species, Porites lutea are long-lived, enormous corals that are integral to the framework of nearshore reefs. With collaborators in Fiji, her research team are working to determine how local and global environmental stressors might be impacting them.  

Coral reefs are able to thrive using the energy produced by the algae living symbiotically in their structures. Such algae require light from the surface to penetrate down through the water to stimulate the chemical reaction of photosynthesis to meet their energy requirements. The by-products of the photosynthesis are vital building blocks for the corals themselves, who have in turn provided a safe shelter for the photosynthesising algae. In the ‘coral bleaching’ climate change effect, the water surrounding the reef has become too warm for the algae to survive longterm, which in turn leads to coral death.

Given the importance of sunlight in this exchange, Sindia and her research group are specifically looking at how the natural sediment in cloudy water, where light penetrates less easily, impacts the life of a coral community.

Having collected coral cores during an expedition in 2017, samples are continuing to be used for analysis by Sindia’s PhD student Ana as she extracts 3D images and collects data on their chemical composition.

“Having the time and budget to go to Fiji on fieldwork has directly led to samples which were essential to a pHD position in my lab. The very existence of these samples helped to underpin grant applications to further our work. It was also during this fieldwork that I met and partnered with Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji”

Sindia’s lab is now able to apply their expertise on corals to the giant clams of Malaysia which, similar to corals, grow in symbiosis with marine algae.

“Being able to attend UK-based conferences put me in touch relevant researchers working in Malaysia too. Directly because of this networking I became co-Principal Investigator on a Natural Environment Research Council funded programme; diversifying my lab to include clams in our research and employing a new laser technology, embedding a new avenue in the Cardiff University repertoire”.

Interestingly, giant clams deposit daily growth increments, allowing researchers to count their age in a similar concept to counting tree rings. Using the mass spectrometry technique honed working with corals, the team were able to examine the chemical composition of the clams daily growth increments to investigate the daily environmental conditions they had been growing under.  

Kimberley Mills is using the samples collected by Sindia and the Malaysia + UK Science crew, a position and dataset which Sindia directly attributes to the opportuities afforded by the Returning Fellowship programme.

Amazingly, Kim’s findings show that clams which grow in murky water are able to grow at the same rate as those growing in clear water. This is down to their ability to switch between using energy derived from the symbiotic algae, to feeding directly from the water column. Such flexibility in feeding behaviour may be key in their survival in an ever-changing reef environment, perhaps preventing them from suffering the same fate as the bleached corals elsewhere.

With Sindia living and working in South Wales, but researching tropical corals and clams she is quick to draw comparisons from her research into coral ecosystems with her surfing exploits in the “murky” Bristol Channel, where the resilient honeycomb worm can be found as a member of a dynamic, turbid estuary. It seems that no matter where you are on the planet, dynamism may be the key to survival in a challenging world.

Hear Sindia’s quick ocean acidification overview video with sound (in English).


Research network co-hosts annual student conference for second year running

The Wales Ecology & Evolution Network (WEEN) aims to promote post-graduate research and create a networking platform for early-career scientists at Welsh Universities.

Their annual conference has been co-hosted by WEEN and the LCEE Research Network Wales for the last two years. Held at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid-Wales, it includes talks and poster sessions from both experienced and early career researchers, training workshops, and networking events. It’s an ideal opportunity for the research network to support early career researchers in what is often their first go at conference presentations and networking face to face with other researchers from Welsh universities, many of whom are still completing their PhDs.

Talks spanned from rocky shores to rivers, agriculture to evolution, and axolotls to chimpanzees.

Supporting the rising talent within the Welsh research landscape is a core part of the mission of the research network’s strategy and contributes toward increased grant capture into Wales in the mid and long term. Within this cohort of engaging early career researchers will be the research leaders of the coming years and decades. Supporting opportunities for them to develop themselves and their networks within Wales is key to building on research capacity in Wales.

Over 60 delegates attended the 3-day event, bringing together speakers from organisations across Wales including Swansea, Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth universities.

“WEEN is such a successful and inspiring event. It is a conference organized by students, for students and works brilliantly at facilitating important networking and cross-fertilization of ideas between early career researchers from across Welsh Universities. The quality of the talks was top notch and it was fantastic to see groups of students from different universities interacting and sharing ideas and approaches. Wales is very strong in ecological and evolution-related research and WEEN is helping to maintain and build the future strengths in this area.”

Julia P G Jones, Professor of Conservation at Bangor University & Director of the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales

Researchers in Wales and Africa are collaborating to create a more sustainable future

#SmallNationBigIdeas: Africa-Wales Research Collaborations Tackling Climate Change

On November the 6th 2022, world leaders will meet in Egypt for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP27. Dubbed by the organisers at the “Africa COP”, the host delegation hope to raise the profile on the world-stage of all African nations and their contributions towards tackling climate change

Collaboration is one of the four pillars of the vision and mission for COP27. And it’s one of the areas in which Welsh universities excel. An assessment of Welsh research published in 2021 found that more than 50% of Wales’s research output was through an international research collaboration.

In celebration, we have compiled a set of case studies highlighting sustainability and climate focussed research collaborations between Welsh and African universities. The case studies featured a wide range of research tackling issues as varied as developing drought-tolerant crops, capacity for sharing and using climate change information, and flexible solar panel technology.

These stories were sent to COP27 as well as featuring at Wales Climate Week 2022. We even worked on a small postcard that linked to the stories online and which was displayed at COP and several African embassy locations.

Click here to read all the fantastic examples of research collaborations between universities in Africa and Wales that are helping to create a more sustainable future for everybody.

Sustainable agriculture networking event targeting €95.5 billion Horizon Europe program to be held on 15th-16th of February, 2022.

Sustainable Agriculture for the 21st Century – a two-day networking event being held online to create connections between researchers, industry partners and other stakeholders – is to be held on the 15th-16th of February, 2022.

Presentations will showcase the excellent research being conducted in Wales (plus special guests from leading EU institutions) for the delivery of agricultural systems that are fit for the 21st century.

In addition to the two-day event, attendees and presenters will be able to network, hold 1:1 meetings, and organise breakout sessions during a two-week open-plan brokerage period to target the Horizon Europe funding program.

“Farming the countryside is a core part of Welsh culture and everyday life, with 88% of land in Wales used for one form of agriculture or another. It has been a part of our culture and identity for centuries. It is no surprise then that, steeped in this heritage, Welsh Universities are leaders in agricultural research.

As leaders in agriculture and environmental research, Wales’ universities have a major role to play in realising a sustainable future for communities, local economies the climate and nature. But the work going on here isn’t just focussed on Wales. From arid plains to lush rainforest climates, researchers are working on solutions that work locally as well as globally.”

–        Rhys Bowley, Manager, Low Carbon Energy & Environment Research Network Wales.

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of €95.5 billion, in which UK institutions are eligible to participate.

Discussions at the Agriculture for the 21st Century event are expected to be particularly well aligned with (but not limited to) two Horizon Europe funding calls under ‘Pillar 2’: Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment (Cluster 6) and Climate, Energy and Mobility (Cluster 5). The UK’s National Contact Point for Cluster 6, Helen Sweeney, will be presenting more on the structure and opportunities available.

Spaces are free but limited. Register now to secure your place:

Video competition winners announced!

A huge congratulations to Theresa Bodner of Bangor University and James Bain of Cardiff University, the joint winners of our #SmallNationBigIdeas video competition! They will get to split the pot, each taking home a cash prize of £75 kindly funded by the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Bangor University.

When we started our video series, Small Nation, Big Ideas: Welsh science tackling climate change, our aim was to highlight the excellent researchers based in Wales, and their contributions to addressing one of the biggest challenges facing society. To celebrate and encourage those who are relatively new to science and research we opened a competition for the best video submission from early career researchers.

The series of short films will showcase cutting-edge research being carried out in Wales. Additionally, there will be lots of opportunities for researchers working on climate-change related topics to talk to the media in the run-up to COP26, so this video series is chance to for us to put a spotlight on engaging and enthusiastic speakers. The videos will be promoted on our website, social media channels, and have the chance to become part of the Wales Climate Week exhibit, reaching a large audience of fellow researchers, policy makers and the public.