Kerry Howell

University of Plymouth


My research in BIOT is aimed at understanding more about the deep coral ecosystems, so called ‘mesophotic reefs’, and their role in the wider BIOT ecosystem.

Mesophotic reefs are poorly known compared to their shallow water counterparts, but they may have a vital role to play as a refuge for species during periods of warming and bleaching. We know very little about the relationship between shallow and mesophotic reefs, and so our aim is to investigate how community composition varies with depth, the environmental drivers of those communities, and how well connected deep and shallow populations are.

A key part of our work is to map the distribution of mesophotic reefs throughout BIOT, and enable us to predict where other mesophotic reef sites may be located. This ability to predict requires a detailed understanding of both the topography and oceanography of the region, and so we are working with hydrographers and oceanographers at Plymouth to provide the data we need. The maps we create can then be used to investigate relationships between mesophotic reefs and larger pelagic organisms like manta rays, that are the focus of other areas of both Plymouth’s and other institutions’ research within the marine science programme.

The key to better spatial management of the oceans is mapping. Our work in BIOT will help us, and others, to better map and model the distribution of key habitats and species at mesophotic depths.

Kerry Howell


2013 Present
Associate Professor in Marine Ecology, University of Plymouth
2011 2013
Lecturer in marine ecology, University of Plymouth
2005 2011
RCUK Academic Research Fellow, University of Plymouth
2003 2005
Offshore Marine Ecologis, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough
2002 2003
Census of Marine Life Scientist, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
1999 2002
PhD (Deep Sea Ecology), Southampton University

My Project

  • Coral Reef Resilience
    Mesophotic Reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory

Other interests

My research interests in BIOT and beyond lie in deeper waters and focus on sustainable management of offshore and deep-sea ecosystems. Much of my research focuses on delivering the data to support spatial management, including the design of effective marine protected area networks. This includes collection of fundamental ecological data on species and habitats, habitat mapping and modelling, understanding population connectivity through modelling and genetic research, and mapping ecosystem services.  Working in deep water involves the use of robotic and autonomous systems, and so I also work on use of artificial intelligence to support species identification from image and video data. I also collaborate with medical scientists to investigate the biomedical potential of marine organisms. Recently I have been working with colleagues in economically less developed nations to help build capacity in deep-sea research.