The Illegal Trade of Marine Turtles in the Philippines - Biosciences - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2811

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Prof Annette Broderick

Co-Supervisor: Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth

Co-Supervisor: Dr Ana Nuno

Co-Supervisor: Prof Brendan Godley

Co-Supervisor:  Dr Heather Koldewey

Location: Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project description:

The illegal international trade in marine turtles for meat, shell and eggs has contributed to global population declines. Demand for these products remains high in South East Asia and marine turtles from the beaches and waters of the Philippines are a key source for this market, which is thought to be on the increase1-3.

Understanding the impact of this trade on marine turtle populations requires baseline biological and socio-economic data that is at present lacking4. Working in partnership with the Zoological Society of London Philippines office (established in 2010 and implementing marine conservation projects nationally), this project will assess the status of marine turtle populations and their habitats in the Philippines and quantify the magnitude and drivers of illegal trade4. A better understanding of the social-ecological factors related to illegal wildlife trade, a key threat affecting biodiversity and the livelihoods of communities dependent upon those resources, is key for designing and implementing effective conservation interventions 5,6


Image 1: Foraging green turtle. Credit Phikwe Goodwin. Image 2: Turtle shells from the Philippines seized in Vietnam. Credit IOSEA

Project Aims and Methods:

This project will work at different geographic scales across the Philippines, from macro analyses to in depth studies at important sites. There are four main aims:

1. Investigate the distribution and abundance of the five species of marine turtles reported in the Philippines.

2. Assess the threats to marine turtles and their habitats and how that varies across species.

3. Quantify the direct exploitation and trade routes of marine turtle products and identify the socio-economic drivers of illegal take.

4. Develop an integrated social-ecological model of sea turtle trade in the region, aiming to inform design and evaluation of conservation interventions.

Methods: A review of peer and non-peer review literature will help compile and publish a national overview. A combination of nesting beach monitoring and in water surveys will be conducted to assess species distribution, abundance and threats.  Remote sensing, satellite imagery and in-water surveys will be used to identify and assess the quality of foraging and nesting habitats and produce habitat suitability models for key species7,8. Socio-economic questionnaires will be used to investigate perceived change in populations over time and to quantify the magnitude and characteristics of the trade in marine turtle products (e.g. target species, use, prices, amounts, routes), profile resource users and understand the importance of turtles for food security. Social-ecological modeling will be used to integrate findings and consider potential conservation implications under different scenarios5,6.


Applicants should have a relevant undergraduate degree with 2:1 level or above, and a relevant MSc qualification. Previous experience in ecological and social sciences, interdisciplinary projects and conducting fieldwork in developing countries would be beneficial. International travel/fieldwork is required so applicant must be able to spend time overseas.

Case Award Description:

The Case partner, the Zoological Society of London will provide scientific and logistical support both in the UK and in the Philippines where they have an established track record or working with local communities. ZSL-Philippines is a registered foreign NGO, with permanent offices in Cebu and Iloilo, ~40 staff (all Filipino, comprising biologists, community organisers, technical specialists and operations) with good connections to relevant local and national government agencies and implement conservation projects across the Visayas region and northern Luzon.


At their first official meeting with supervisors an assessment is made of skills required for the project, and a plan to achieve the necessary training made. Students are also expected to complete at least 4 days of additional generic skills training a year through the Researcher Development Programme and attend a series of bespoke courses run for postgraduate research students.

The student will be also be trained in the specialized skills required for this research project including ecological surveying, both in-water and on nesting beaches, remote sensing of habitats and habitat suitability modelling, social surveying techniques and analyses.


1 IOSEA 2014. Illegal take and trade of marine turtles in the IOSEA region. MT-IOSEA/SS.7/Doc. 10.1.

2 Schoppe, S. and Antonio, R. 2009. Marine turtle trade in the Philippines, unpublished TRAFFIC report.

3 Lam, T. Ling, X. Takahasi, S. and Burgess, E.  2011. Market Forces: an examination of marine turtle trade in China and Japan, TRAFFIC East Asia, Hong Kong.

4 Fraser, K. 2017. Traditional ecological knowledge as a tool for assessing the status of endangered data-poor species: a case study of marine turtles in the Philippines, MSc thesis, University of Exeter Penryn Campus.

5 Nuno, A. and St John, F.A.V. 2014. How to ask sensitive questions in conservation: A review of specialized questioning techniques, Biological Conservation.

6 Nuno, A. Blumenthal J.M. Austin T.J. Bothwell J. Ebanks-Petrie G. Godley B.J. and Broderick A.C. 2017 Understanding implications of consumer behaviour for wildlife farming and sustainable wildlife trade. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/cobi.12998

7 McKennzie, L.J, M.A. . Finkbeiner and Kirkman, H. 2001. Methods for mapping seagrass distribution In Global Seagrass Research Methods eds Short and Coles. Elsevier.

8 Moran, K.L. and Bjorndal, K.A. 2005 Simulated green turtle grazing affects structure and productivity of seagrass pastures Marine Ecology Progress Series 305:235-247

Entry requirements:        

Applicants should have a relevant undergraduate degree with 2:1 level or above, and a relevant MSc qualification. Previous experience in ecological and social sciences, interdisciplinary projects and conducting fieldwork in developing countries would be beneficial. International travel/fieldwork is required so applicant must be able to spend time overseas

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.