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Alex Ward

Alex Ward

Masters by Research Graduate​


Supervisors: Prof. John Bythell and Dr. James Guest

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I started the Marine Ecosystems and Governance M.Res. course at Newcastle University in 2020, after graduating with first-class honours in Biology B.Sc. My Biology undergraduate degree helped me gain plenty of experience in field experiments in a range of environments, from farms in Newcastle to orchards in Greece and mountainous jungles in South Africa. My lab-based undergraduate dissertation investigating the microbial communities under glaciers and ice sheets helped me to develop my skills in a variety of lab techniques.

I then decided to shift my academic focus towards coral biology, a subject that I am highly passionate about. For my Masters thesis, I used time-series analysis of reef orthomosaics to explore the population demography of a shallow reef-building coral, Acropora digitifera, in Palau. This involved fieldwork in Palau with the CoralAssist Lab group where I collected images to produce large-scale 3D reef maps (orthomosaics) and worked on various other CoralAssist projects relating to heat tolerance, spawning, proteomics, and genomics. ArcGIS analysis of these orthomosaics allowed me to assess the changes in population size structure and fate-track over 1,000 individual colonies. This innovative research will contribute to future work on A. digitifera and aid the development of appropriate restoration strategies at this reef.
My interest in coral reefs started before university when I spent a month volunteering in Nosy Be, Madagascar, with Frontier. This mainly involved assessing fish abundance at nearby reefs, but I also surveyed mangroves, monitored some of the local lemur troops and gained my first PADI qualifications. In 2019, I then carried out a six-week marine conservation internship in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, through GVI. My primary focus was leading survey dives to monitor the spread of coral diseases and sharing my data with Coral Disease Watch. Through this, I earned the PADI Specialty Diver: Coral Reef Research qualification. I also spent time there supporting the CRIP Puerto Morelos Coral Reef Restoration Program, a lab that is using coral fragmentation to restore local reefs. More recently, I volunteered at the Horniman Museum and Gardens aquarium for 2 months. There, I further developed my marine organism husbandry skills and participated in lab-induced coral spawning events with Project Coral. In 2022, I also designed and delivered a series of sessions to children of various age groups for the Dove Marine Summer School. This was a great chance to work with local children and hopefully impart some of my passion for marine biology to the next generation.
Following the completion of my Masters, I am now keen to continue my research on corals and contribute to reef conservation. I also want to develop my data management and visualisation skills to find creative ways to present information about important marine topics.

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