My name is Luke Rodgers and I study Marine biology at Queen’s University in Belfast.
I came to Archipelagos as part of my placement year and will be working on the Island of Lipsi from January until the end of June, here I joined the Marine mammal team in their ongoing research in the Aegean Sea. I am currently working towards a distribution-based project, with specific interest in Tursiops truncatus (bottlenose dolphins) and their habitat use/ abundance in relation to different seasons.

When I first arrived on Lipsi in January, the winter weather meant that boat surveys were unable to be carried out. For the first month of my placement I became free-dive trained and was able to assist in snorkel- based projects with other interns in the Marine ecology team, collecting sea cucumbers and sea urchins to measure microplastics consumption. I regularly carry out macroplastic surveys on our local shores with other interns to ensure that plastic pollution is minimised but also keeping an up to date record of types of rubbish found on each shore in our data-sets.  During this time I also spend considerable time in the office carrying out research into scientific literature and produced my literature review on Tursiops truncatus distribution and have been able to go back through our data-sets from 2016-2019 to produce graphs showing total number of sightings per season to search for trends in sighting frequencies.

We collect environmental data on our boat surveys that we can compare as seasons change, such as sea temperature and weather conditions. Other data collected that may affect habitat use and distribution during our surveys includes boat presence and noise pollution data from the hydrophone, as dolphins will often avoid areas with higher boat traffic. During a sighting, co-ordinates are recorded from the GPS which I can use to produce distribution models on GIS to track movements and habitat use and compare this with seasons. I plan on using data from our photo-ID catalogues and a mark-recapture survey technique to measure re-occurrences and migration patterns of catalogued individuals to see if these are influenced by changing seasons.

Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, our usual boat surveying schedule has been put on standby. As a team we have been carrying out land-based surveys to see if these are a suitable means of surveying and collecting data. For this we created our own range finders to measure an animal’s distance from us during a sighting.

We can collect environmental data such as weather conditions, sea state and viewing visibility during our surveys. We are also able to collect some anthropogenic data such as boat presence, particularly in relation to dolphin behaviour. I have found that land-based surveys are a good way to collect behavioural data, as we can remove ourselves and our surveying platform as a variable that may influence behaviour changes and responses and observe how they interact with each other in their natural environment. They allow for more in depth studies of interactions with anthropogenic elements and animal movements. However, there are limitations with this method as photo-ID methods cannot be implemented and identifying may be more difficult if animals are unclear from these greater distances.

We have also been given the opportunity to take part in kayak training for future kayak-based marine mammal surveys, with interest in monitoring endangered monk seal populations around Lipsi. With the addition of the portable hydrophone we can also measure noise pollution in our study areas as well as collecting our usual environmental and anthropogenic data.

Luke Rodgers
Student of Marine biology, Queen’s University
On-site intern at Archipelagos’ Marine Mammal Research Team