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A Marine Science student at Ulster University is a co-author on a scientific paper that has been published this month in one of the leading natural sciences journals, Nature Communications.

Rory O’Donnell from Strabane, Co. Tyrone, got the unique opportunity to work on a major scientific project at the research lab CRIOBE in French Polynesia as a result of his Erasmus-funded placement and Ulster University’s collaboration with European partners.  

The scientific paper addresses the impact of global warming on sea anemones and follows 14 months of intense research including monitoring clownfish and anemones in the island of Moorea, French Polynesia.  

The research discovered that high sea temperatures caused by global warming resulted in the bleaching of anemones which in turn disrupted the reproduction of wild clownfish due to stress.  The fish only started laying eggs again once sea temperatures had returned to normal and the anemones recovered.  

Ulster University Erasmus student, Rory O’Donnell, said:

I applied for the ERASMUS programme to gain experience of a working environment in my field of interest. I’ve been interested in marine biology for many years and the programme gave me a unique opportunity to work in a research station in French Polynesia.

“The research project focuses on the influences of increasing sea temperatures and the frequency of bleaching events that are damaging to clownfish and, in all likelihood, other species that live in a similar environment.  

“We photographed over 500 nests and counted over half a million eggs and the impact of bleaching on reproduction was striking.  This type of research is very important to understand the impact global warming is having on the environment.

“I feel the Erasmus placement has helped me gain both life experience and educational opportunities that I wouldn’t have got without the programme.  

“I would encourage other students to take opportunity of embarking on the programme while at university, you will step out of your comfort zone, learn new things and meet some great people along the way.

Associate Professor Suzanne Mills, from EPHE at CRIOBE said;

“As a result of this research, our research team at CRIOBE is going to continue monitoring individual fish to see how they cope with a second warming-induced bleaching event.  We will assess if the fish have the ability to cope with climate change by refining their response.

Ulster University has been granted an Erasmus+ Charter to 2020, enabling students to participate in the Europe-wide programme which provides an exciting opportunity to spend time studying or working in Europe. Over 30 countries participate in the programme including Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Malta and Sweden. As part of the programme, students will receive a grant to cover university fees for the placement year and to help towards the extra costs of living abroad.