Innovative research on both sides of the Atlantic

- May 1, 2019

TOSST participant and PhD candidate Manuel Dureuil. (Provided photo)
TOSST participant and PhD candidate Manuel Dureuil. (Provided photo)

It’s a unique research school that helps advance technical and research skills in ocean science from both sides of the Atlantic.

The Transatlantic Ocean System Science and Technology Graduate Research School, or TOSST, prepares graduates for an increasingly internationalized research and business environment. TOSST faculty in Nova Scotia jointly train students with faculty from the Helmholtz Research School for Ocean Science and Technology (HOSST), located in Kiel, Germany.

Throughout the program, students participate in workshops focusing on business development and management skills. And there are opportunities available to develop leadership skills through mentoring or by completing internships in industry, government, and NGOs. This leads to a well-rounded professional who is ready to start contributing to the most pressing ocean challenges of our time.

Using innovative research to inform policy

One of the students involved in the TOSST program is Manuel Dureuil, a PhD candidate with Dal’s Department of Biology. Manuel has been researching sharks since 2009, with a focus on various aspects of conservation ecology and fisheries science.

During his TOSST German exchange stay in Kiel, Manuel worked with Dr. Boris Worm and Dr. Rainer Froese on an analysis about important shark and ray habitats in Europe. Dr. Froese was Manuel’s supervisor for his Master’s degree, and Dr. Worm is the reason that Manuel came to Dalhousie.

“When we started work, it looked like sharks and rays were less present in heavily fished areas, but it was difficult to assess because of a rather poor resolution of the data,” says Manuel. “Rainer suggested that we investigate this in a finer scale resolution and also examine if fishing is actually happening in marine protected areas. We did that and unexpectedly found that trawling intensity is higher inside than outside marine protected areas, and heavily fished areas are largely lacking sharks and rays.”

Read more: Industrial fishing in marine protect areas poses significant threats to endangered sharks and other species

During the same stay, the trio of researchers developed new methodologies on how to best estimate the vital parameters in population biology and stock assessment of data-poor sharks and rays. This was done in collaboration with William H. Aeberhard from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New York. This project is still ongoing, and Manuel is currently finishing those chapters of his PhD.

Both topics are critically important given the threatened and concerning status of many sharks and rays, and will help their conservation, restoration and management.

International exchange

A key part of the TOSST program is the two-week summer school. With a location that rotates every year, students can spend two weeks immersed in ocean technologies and observation in Halifax, seafloor structures and dynamics in Kiel, and ocean biodiversity and management in Cape Verde.

Manuel participated in the summer school that took place in Cape Verde. The work he did, and the connections he made, led to the development of the Cabo Verde Elasmobranch Research and Conservation Project. This project has validated a highly endangered ray, the blackchin guitarfish, and is the most important project of shARCC: Sharks of the Atlantic Research and Conservation Centre.

Co-founded by Manuel and Mason Goulden, shARCC is the first research-focused shark NGO in Canada. And the research focus of shARCC also distinguishes it from other conservation NGOs. Members look to use their own research to close gaps in understanding about shark populations and apply it to advocacy and conservation efforts.

Read more: Student-led shARRC links research and advocacy to protect shark populations

“All of this started because of the TOSST summer school I attended in 2015,” says Manuel. The connections I made were critical to my research.”

Currently, the initiatives of shARRC are spread across the Atlantic in three different regions.

In Cabo Verde, Manuel and his team have been tagging weasel sharks in an effort to provide local governments with the most accurate data possible to place appropriate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and introduce sustainable fisheries.

In Europe, the main goal is to shine a light into the conservation benefit MPAs could offer for elasmobranchs, along with the identification of habitat hotspots. And finally, in the Western Atlantic, shAARC is examining shark population trends, spatial movements, growth and mortality of the blue and Greenland shark.

The students who are new to TOSST will start the program with a build-in support system. Former students frequently speak to each other, and provide advice when needed.

“There are many things you can benefit from in this program,” says Manuel. “This includes funding for conferences (which I have taken advantage of), and the ability to make connections with those who are participating, or have already participated in the program.”

More information about TOSST can be found on the website, and on their social media channels, which include Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.


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