Systems approach for establishing climate smart aquaculture to balance biodiversity conservation and food security in coral reef ecosystems

This project will aim to understand impacts of climate smart sustainable mariculture as a nature-based solution (NbS) for enhancing biodiversity and food security in tropical marine ecosystems. 


About 1 billion people’s livelihoods depend directly on coral reefs, but many countries relying on coral reef resources for sustainable development lack an integrated marine resource planning system that considers mariculture as part of delivering environmental, social, economic and food security goals. A key challenge hindering the evaluation and inclusion of mariculture national marine resource plans and strategies is a scientific knowledge gap in how mariculture interacts with the needs of people and marine biodiversity. Specifically, we lack robust socio-ecological evidence on the wider role of mariculture in coral reef conservation, food security, and sustainable livelihoods.  

This PhD project will co-develop key performance indicators for improving assessment and engagement with mariculture in tropical countries to enhance strategic planning of conservation of coral reef biodiversity, seafood production and community resilience in the face of climate change. We hope that the project will have direct benefits in our case study areas, and beyond. We will co-create new holistic approaches to provide scientific socio-economic and ecological evidence to enable tropical countries considering mariculture development on where best to pilot integrated multi-trophic aquaculture as nature-based solutions. 

Many countries dependent on coral reef ecosystems for the health of their environment (food security from vulnerable fisheries and protection from coral reefs to extreme climate events), economy (sustainable livelihoods based on fishing and tourism) and society (coastal culture, recreation and well-being) facing unprecedented challenges in extreme changes in climate (e.g., higher frequency of cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis) and uncertain global events (financial crisis, food shortages and global pandemics) will not have access to climate smart mariculture that can offer resilience to provide economic prosperity, biodiversity conservation and employment from sustainable coral reef mariculture. 


The project will address the following scientific objectives: (1) How will climate change affect resilience of sustainable mariculture as a nature-based solution, especially in tropical countries where coastal communities are vulnerable to food insecurity from declining coral reef fisheries? (2) How can future scenario climate models relate to environmental-economic-social trade-offs for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems? (3) How do changes visualised in models enable systems approaches to inform science policy that underpin inclusive and collaborative decision-making on best locations for climate smart mariculture? 

Depending on the interests of the candidate, further objectives could include: (i) investigating the relationship between the location, oceanography, environmental impacts of farming new marine species in coral reef ecosystems vulnerable to climate change; (ii) co-developing with researchers, government representatives and industry investors, systems approaches to climate risk assessment of different types of integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems. 

These objectives will be tackled using empirical data collected during fieldwork and from sector climate models co-created with the in-country case partners. 

Your skills and Training 

You will benefit from the training offered by the Panorama DTP. You will also benefit from interdisciplinary expertise from a new tropical marine research team recognised to be at the forefront of systems thinking in mariculture, climate change and coral reef ecosystems. The project will capitalise on the networks of the supervisors and case partners. 

The project offers the unique opportunity for the candidate to develop an interdisciplinary knowledge base encompassing social-ecological approaches, spatial analysis, and conservation science policy, and offers specialist training in: 

  • scientific programming skills for processing and visualising large datasets;
  • skills in spatial analysis and spatial planning approaches;
  • coral reef and climate change ecology;
  • co-developing complex integrated multi-trophic aquaculture models with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds using creative engagement techniques and collaborative teamwork.

 Wider Opportunities 

By joining a new research team that crosses two Faculties: Professor Selina Stead (University of Leeds, Faculty of Environment), Associate Professor Maria Beger (University of Leeds, School of Biology), and Dr Nwamaka Okeke-Ogbuafor (University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment) you will be joining an exciting collaboration and have access to a large, diverse and vibrant group of interdisciplinary researchers. The lead supervisor led a successful Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2020 on the wider benefits of environmentally friendly mariculture and was an invited expert witness on the House of Lords NbS for climate change inquiry in 2021.