Keeping an eye on the seas around us – study leads to PhD

Keeping an eye on the seas around us – study leads to PhD
21 January 2020

For seven years Jenni Kakkonen has followed the fortunes of tiny creatures living around the shores of Scapa Flow.

The work plays an important role in monitoring the health of Orkney’s marine environment – and Jenni’s efforts have now been recognised with the award of a PhD from Heriot-Watt University.

A marine biologist with Orkney Islands Council’s Marine Services team, she worked full-time and studied part-time while carrying out her research on the long-term monitoring of the communities of marine worms and other small organisms that live in the sediment of Scapa Flow beaches.

The thesis which earned Jenni the right to be called Dr Kakkonen analysed data gathered over more than 40 years.

The monitoring of sandy beaches was started by the Orkney Harbour Authority in 1974 to help assess any potential impact from the Flotta Oil terminal development and operations on the marine environment of Scapa Flow.

It continues to this day and is an integral part of the Marine Environmental Unit’s work.

In her thesis, Jenni concluded that there have not been any significant changes since 1974 in the populations of ‘macroinvertebrates’ at 13 Scapa Flow study sites. Macroinvertebrates are tiny organisms, some barely large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

“This is very welcome news for our marine environment and shows the importance of long-term monitoring in assessing the health of the seas around us,” she said.

“It’s unusual and very valuable to have data of the kind gathered by the Marine Environmental Unit over so many years. Analysing the data, gathering our own samples and arriving at such a positive conclusion has been an exciting and rewarding project and I am delighted with the award of a PhD.”

Jenni’s thesis will now be used as a baseline for assessing any future changes to the ecological health of Scapa Flow’s intertidal macroinvertebrate communities and the wider marine environment.

Graham Sinclair, Chair of OIC’s Development and Infrastructure Committee, said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to Jenni – the award of her PhD is well deserved recognition for her considerable efforts over seven years of research and study.

“Her findings are very welcome and reflect the considerable efforts that go into maintaining the quality of Orkney’s marine environment and the sustainable management of the seas around our islands.”

She and her team of two technicians carry out several monitoring programmes on behalf of OIC Marine Services. Information on these can be found at the Orkney Harbours website.

Jenni would like to extend thanks to her supervisors, Dr Michael Bell (Heriot-Watt University ICIT), Professor Teresa Fernandes (Heriot-Watt University) and Professor John Baxter (previously of Scottish Natural Heritage); along with Professor Jonathan Side and Dr Joanne Porter who were both part of the supervisory team during the seven years of study, and colleagues at the Marine Environmental Unit.

Her research was fully funded by Orkney Harbour Authority.

The full title of Jenni’s thesis is ‘Sandy beach monitoring to detect impacts against a background of long-term trends and variability in intertidal macroinvertebrate communities: an Orkney case-study’.

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