Brianna Elliott MEM'17, a doctoral student in the Marine Science and Conservation program, recently shared insights into her research focus, the Read Lab, the impacts of her research and the most rewarding part of her research experience.
Brianna's faculty advisor is Andy Read, and she is studying the unintentional catch of non-target species, like whales and sea turtles, in fisheries. Specifically, her research focuses on better understanding bycatch rates in tuna driftnet fisheries managed under the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).
What does your lab work look like?
“My research is largely policy and management focused, so I have very little 'lab' or field work for my dissertation. Instead, much of my time is spent pouring over policy documents, meeting reports, and attending meetings themselves. The closest thing I come to lab work is running deep learning models and analyzing satellite imagery to look for fishing vessels.”
What big questions is your lab researching?
“Each person in the Read Lab researches such diverse topics! We all focus on a different species/topic area, but in balance, we’re all generally focused on the conservation of marine megafauna in some form. For example, some students investigate historical trends of species presence or absence; whether management interventions are properly scaled to species’ ecology and biology; and several look at different applications of conservation technology.”
What is your specific research focus?
“My research is focused on the bycatch of megafauna, or in other words – the unintentional catch of non-target species, like whales and sea turtles, in fisheries. Specifically, I focus on better understanding bycatch rates in tuna driftnet fisheries managed under the IOTC. Because the data gaps are significant in this region and fishery, I often must take a step back from researching the bycatch/animals themselves and better understand the fishery. In doing so, I focus on three focus areas: 1) whether existing policies across global, regional, and unilateral scales appropriately address bycatch in this fishery; 2) how many vessels are in Indian Ocean driftnet fisheries, and what the characteristics of these fisheries are; and 3) what are estimated bycatch levels in Indian Ocean drift gillnets.”
What has been the most rewarding or enjoyable part of your research?
“I’ve been able to work with a broad range of stakeholders through this work, including the World Wildlife Fund - Pakistan, the IOTC and others. I was also able to spend time working on my dissertation in La Réunion under a Chateaubriand Fellowship, which was a tremendous experience to be able to work in the region with French researchers."
What skills and knowledge have you gained from working in your Lab?
"I have certainly improved my technical skills, particularly in software like R and QGIS, which I had no background in before starting the program. Most importantly for me, my work in this lab, particularly as a master’s student, gave me a strong background in marine law, policy, and management. It prepared me for the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, which I completed in 2019 between my master’s and PhD and has been foundational to my work in and outside this PhD program. Additionally, Andy is also a tough and detailed editor and really improves his students’ writing over time."