Executive Directors

We’re a small team of scientists and conservationists and we work all over the world, with current research and conservation projects in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Dr Richard 'RJ' Lilley

Founding Director and CEO

About RJ

RJ is passionate about education, particularly marine science communication and outdoor learning. His work focuses on the sustainable supply chain management of small-scale capture fisheries. He is particularly interested in the role of seagrass meadows in providing local food security and is currently working with an international team on an International Climate Initiative (IKI) project with this focus. His work domestically is focussed on developing seagrass meadow (Zostera marina) restoration opportunities across Scotland. RJ has over nine years experience of research in marine systems. He has primarily worked in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas and more recently the North Atlantic Ocean.  He is a qualified PADI and BSAC scuba-diving instructor and recreational free diver.

Benjamin Jones

Founding Director

About Ben

Ben is an interdisciplinary marine scientist, bridging social and ecological research with communication to help conserve seagrass meadows for people and planet. He has over 9 years of experience working with seagrass ecosystems, and has conducted collaborative research and conservation projects in Europe, across the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean. He is currently finishing a PhD that investigats the linkages between seagrass meadows, fisheries and poverty alleviation in the Indo-Pacific. Ben is interested in working to enhance societal understanding and appreciation of the importance of seagrass, particularly as a source of food-security, and regularly utilises design and other creative mediums to communicate information on seagrass and scientific research.

Ben takes a people-centric approach to conservation and is passionate about using his position of privilege to champion and amplify underrepresented voices within the seagrass science and conservation community.

Dr Richard Unsworth

Founding Director

About Richard

Richard is an Associate Professor in marine ecology at Swansea University where he uses field, desk based and aquaria research to solve real world problems in seagrass conservation and restoration.  He also has a particular interest in understanding the ecosystem service value of seagrass meadows, and has worked extensively on examining the role they play in supporting fisheries. Richard’s expertise lie in the ecological structuring processes of seagrass meadows which has led to his leading role in seagrass restoration across the UK having led the UKs first major seagrass restoration project over in West Wales. He has experimented with the methods behind seagrass restoration for almost a decade, leading to his major role in driving the UKs first seagrass nursery. Richard has almost twenty years’ experience of research in marine systems and conducts collaborative interdisciplinary research in Europe, Australia, the Caribbean and SE Asia. As a leading voice in seagrass conservation, Richard has authored over 140 academic articles and reports and had his work featured in the global media on a number of occasions. In 2013, Richard collaborated with the team to transform this academic research into conservation action by helping set up Project Seagrass.

Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth

Director

About Leanne

Leanne is an interdisciplinary marine scientist with over 20 year’s experience working collaboratively with people and communities to help conserve and restore nature. She plays a pivotal role within Project Seagrass leading programmes that help to understand the connections between people and the environment. Her research explores how we can co-develop conservation solutions that promote such interactions. Leanne’s work on seagrass ecosystems has taken her around the globe working on multiple elements of seagrass ecosystem services with a particular focus on fisheries support and food provisioning. She also investigates drivers of seagrass decline internationally. The current focus of her work is collaboration and cooperative research across scales to improve the success of seagrass protection and restoration.

Office Team

Jo van Tonder

Finance and Office Manager

About Jo

Originally from Cape Town, Jo emigrated to the UK with her young family in 2001 living first in North Somerset before making the move across to South Wales in 2019. Prior to her ten years as a Town Council Clerk, Jo worked in Finance for a wide range of organisations. She left the world of local government to join the Project Seagrass team in early 2022 as Finance and Office Manager. From a young age, Jo has nurtured a strong connection with and love of nature, especially the sea. Not surprising, having grown up surrounded by the beauty, diversity and wilderness of Southern Africa. She is a passionate wildlife gardener and saver of all things living.

Bethan Thomas

Conservation Officer

About Bethan

Bethan first joined Project Seagrass in her ‘Professional Training Year’ in 2018 whilst studying for her Bachelors at Cardiff University. She has since returned as a graduate and is working as Conservation Officer, responsible for marketing and communications. Bethan is currently writing her own paper and is particularly interested in the impacts of human activity on the environment and what can be done to stop and reverse these impacts.

Danny Rice

GIS Technician

About Danny

Danny joined Project Seagrass in June 2021 and holds a bachelor’s degree in Physical Geography and a master’s degree in Geographic Information and Climate Change, both from Swansea University. With his background in geography, GIS and specie distribution mapping, Danny is currently leading and assisting on seagrass mapping projects to aid with future conservation and restoration work. Danny is passionate about climate science, research and policy and the subsequent climate impacts on human society, biodiversity and global biomes.

Simon Taylor

GIS Technician

About Simon

Simon has had a passion for marine life since a young age. He completed his bachelors in Marine Biology at Bangor University, and looked to further his growing interest in marine ecosystem restoration by working as a coral restoration intern in South East-Asia.  On returning home he followed this up by studying for an MSc in Land and Ecosystem Restoration at Eden Project Learning. Simon is a new member of the team, having only recently joined. His work involves modelling seagrass habitat potential, though he is keen to get involved wherever he can!

Field Team

Evie Furness

Solent Lead

About Evie

Evie works with schools across the country to inspire and educate future generations about the wonders of our oceans. She works within the core Seagrass Ocean Rescue team responsible for the two hectare restoration in Dale and has been involved with every part of the process. She has a BSc in Marine Biology from Swansea University and is currently studying for her MRes in Biological Science, researching drivers of sea cucumber communities across the Indo-Pacific. Evie first joined Project Seagrass as a Communications and Scientific Research Intern for her undergraduate ‘Year in Industry’ in 2016. She is also a keen diver, holding both BSAC Dive Leader and PADI Divemaster qualifications.

Ally Evans

North Wales Lead

About Ally

Ally is a marine ecologist with 15 years experience across different marine science sectors. Having worked for NGOs in the tropics and government bodies in the UK, she decided research was where she could have the most positive impact on the marine environment. She undertook a PhD at Aberystwyth University in 2016 and has worked as a postdoc at various institutions since. Her research has mostly focused on habitat enhancement of marine artificial structures and rocky reefs, but has also dabbled in coral reef, kelp and seagrass ecology. She joins the Seagrass Ocean Rescue team at Swansea University as a research officer, leading a new restoration project in Wales and building science into all aspects of the team’s applied work.

Esther Thomsen

Scotland Lead

About Esther

Esther works within the core Restoration Forth team to restore seagrass meadows in the Firth of Forth and explores further seagrass restoration opportunities across Scotland. She has been working on seagrass since 2014 and is interested in the impact of anthropogenic nutrient pollution and eutrophication on seagrass meadows and their ecosystem services. After investigating tropical seagrasses in the Caribbean in her MSc thesis and in the South China Sea in her PhD, both at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research and the University of Bremen, Germany, she will now apply her knowledge to restore temperate seagrasses. She has a lot of fieldwork experience and is a certified European Scientific Diver.

Sam Rees

Mechanisation Programme Lead

About Sam

Sam works at the forefront of Seagrass Ocean Rescue as the technical lead, pulling on ten years of experience working in conservation, he has worked as part of the core team responsible for planting 1 million seeds in Dale, West Wales. He has a BSc in Marine Biology from Bangor University as well as a MSc in Marine Environmental Protection. Having worked as the Benthic Marine Biology Technician on the SEACAMS2 project, Sam formed part of the team that developed BoSS lines, the biodegradable restoration method used in Seagrass Ocean Rescue. Sam is also a qualified PADI Divemaster and is currently training to become a Project Manager.

Eve Uncles

Project Support Officer

About Eve

Eve initially joined Project Seagrass in 2019 as a volunteer, later joining the Seagrass Ocean Rescue team as a Marine Laboratory Assistant, working on the WWF restoration in Dale and assisting in outreach. She has a BSc in Geography from Swansea University, where she began the crossover to working in aquatic habitats, studying the effects of deforestation in Borneo and agricultural runoff in South Wales on freshwater macroinvertebrates. Returning to the team in late 2020, she is now working as a Project Support Officer. Eve is currently undertaking her scuba training with BSAC.

Emma Fox

Project Support Officer

About Emma

Emma started working for Project Seagrass as a volunteer, before joining as a Marine Biology Assistant in June 2021. In her role she has been conducting research into how seagrass health is affected by water quality and nutrients as well as taking part in fieldwork and outreach. Emma has a BSc degree in Biological Sciences and a MSc in Marine Systems and Policies from the University of Edinburgh.

Issy Inman

Project Support Officer

About Issy

Issy joined Projects Seagrass in 2019 as part of her year in industry at Swansea University. She helped on the Dale restoration project and was involved in lots of outreach events. During her final year at Swansea University Issy looked at how local climatic factors affected seagrass meadows in England. In line with her passion for connecting communities back to nature using conservation work, Issy’s role in Project Seagrass is community engagement officer.

Aitor Campos

Project Support Officer

About Aitor

Aitor lives on Orkney where he works as a fisher hand diving for scallops. RJ started working with Aitor on a Marine Scotland funded project in 2020 where together they started the process of mapping seagrass meadows within the Orkney archipelago. As both a drone pilot and SCUBA Instructor Aitor has since been involved in two NatureScot funded projects, the first relating to the a genetic connectivity study of Scottish eelgrass (Z.marina) meadows in 2021, and the second in 2022 involving an investigation into the leaf chemistry (Carbon, Nitrogen and Phosphorous) of eelgrass at 6 sites on Orkney. 

Nursery Team

Elise de Tourtoulon-Adams

Seagrass Nursery Lead

About Elise

Bio coming soon

Emily Yates

Seagrass Aquarist

About Emily

Bio coming soon

PhD Candidates

Lucy Coals

PhD Candidate

About Lucy

Lucy has been working on seagrass throughout the tropics since 2015. She joined Project Seagrass in 2021 as a Project Support Officer for the International Climate Initiative (IKI) Project, where she uses her in-field experience to build the capacity of national partners across the Indo-Pacific to implement seagrass research and conservation, in order to provide local food security and support marine biodiversity. With a MSc in Conservation Science from Imperial College London (2018), Lucy will soon to commence her PhD at Deakin University, Melbourne, and Swansea University, which will focus on optimising and upscaling seagrass restoration efforts.

Abigail Wookey

PhD Candidate

About Abigail

Abbie joined Project Seagrass in 2021 as part of an international collaboration for her PhD, working with Deakin University and Swansea University. Abbie has a BSC in Marine Biology from Swansea University and a MSC in Marine Environmental Management from the University of York. During her studies she has worked in the Mediterranean as a coastal ecologist where she was involved in mapping seagrass meadows and monitoring seagrass health. Abbie is currently based at the Seagrass Nursery where she is developing methods to restore seagrass, with a specific focus on seed germination. Alongside this, Abbie is also a leading member of the Global Seagrass Nursery Network which aims to create international links between seagrass nurseries.

Aisling Collins

PhD Candidate

About Aisling

Bio coming soon

Issy Key

PhD Candidate

About Issy

Issy is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, working closely with Project Seagrass and NatureScot to look into the biodiversity of Scottish seagrass meadows. She is particularly interested in bridging marine and terrestrial conservation by understanding how seagrass can support ‘charismatic’ species – birds, otters and seals. She has previously worked on the biodiversity outcomes of nature-based solutions at the Nature-based Solutions Initiative, University of Oxford, and has a bachelor’s degree specialising in ecology and conservation from the University of Cambridge.

Associate Scientists

Chiara Bertelli

Associate Scientist

About Chiara

Chiara is a marine biologist with over 15 years’ experience of coastal and marine ecological survey and research including boat-based marine mammal, fisheries and passive acoustic survey, SCUBA and snorkel surveys of temperate coastal habitats (mainly seagrass) as well as tropical coral reef.  Interests include seagrass ecology, benthic and fish ID, acoustic monitoring of cetaceans, BRUVs, marine conservation, monitoring and management in specific reference to the marine renewable energy sector. Chiara has recently finished a part-time PhD looking at environmental drivers of change in seagrass meadows alongside her full-time job at SEACAMS2 at Swansea University.  More recently she has been working on habitat suitability modelling (HSM) in collaboration with Project Seagrass for Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF, Natural England and now as part of the SMMR ReSOW project using HSM for aiding decision making for seagrass restoration sites.

Anouska Mendzil

Associate Scientist

About Anouska

A multidisciplinary scientist with over 10 years in academia in coastal and marine research including ecological survey work. Previously working on the successful EU-funded SEACAMS and SEACAMS2 R&D projects, research has centred around monitoring and management of ecology around MRE devices. Research and expertise includes; acoustic monitoring of cetaceans including towed arrays, marine mammal and seabird surveys, fish surveys, tracking and tagging, sediment and heavy metal dynamics. With a CAA approved UAV pilot license much of the research focuses on drone-related surveys particularly seagrass surveys. Also working alongside Project Seagrass and Ørsted on seagrass restoration and conservation projects and delivery. Within ReSOW Anouska will lead the fisheries supporting and provisioning services which aims to monetise seagrass support to fisheries using a fish residence index approach. Field campaigns in identified UK coastal seagrass restoration areas will collect data to add to existing databases to develop the SRI. Anouska will also assist on Habitat Suitability Modelling (HSM) to develop a UK wide assessment of seagrass.

Stijn Den Haan

Associate Scientist

About Stijn

Stijn is an interdisciplinary marine ecologist from The Netherlands and works on the restoration of seagrass meadows in North Wales. Studying marine ecosystems during and after his MSc in Ecology & Evolution, his enthusiasm for restoration was sparked when he found himself restoring coral reefs in the Maldives. Upon realising that effectively restoring ecosystems requires knowledge beyond biology, he returned to university to obtain an Erasmus Mundus MSc in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management, and developed a thesis on engaging local communities in European restoration projects. Working shoulder to shoulder in a diverse team, he is eager to restore seagrasses for the benefit of people, nature, and climate. Stijn is a PADI scuba instructor and, when not working, you will probably find him either cycling, hiking, or enjoying jazz.

Sebastian Hennige

Associate Scientist

About Sebastian

Sebastian is a Marine Scientist at the University of Edinburgh with over 15 years of experience investigating the impacts of man-made stressors and climate change to marine ecosystems. This has included tropical and temperate systems, and work from research vessels, SCUBA diving, and snorkelling. In a time of rapidly changing oceans, we need to understand how ecosystems are changing, what we can do to mitigate this, and what this will mean to how we interact with and manage them in the future. To understand how ecosystems will change, we need to understand their environmental limits now and potential to grow under different conditions. This will not only impact where they can grow, but directly inform restoration efforts.

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Current Interships

Lowri O'Neill

Internship

About Lowri

Lowri is studying a BSc Marine Biology degree with an integrated year in industry with Swansea University. For her year in industry, she is interning with Project Seagrass. During this year, she has been involved with many of the teams’ projects including nutrient analysis, restoration projects in the IOW, the first seagrass nursery in the UK, educational outreach, and social media communications. She has since started her own project, analysing carbon cores taken from the seagrass restoration site in Dale. After this internship, she hopes to complete her degree and further her studies in Marine Biology.

Ellie Postlethwaite

Internship

About Ellie

Bio coming soon

STUDENTS, INTERNS & VOLUNTEERS

TRUSTEEs

Rosslyn Barr

Chair of Trustees

About Rosslyn

Rosslyn loves nature, and has always been inspired by the ocean. She is an avid traveller with happy memories of rock-pooling on Scottish Islands, whale watching, penguin spotting in the Falklands and watching baby turtles dash towards the ocean during a stunning Ascension sunrise.

A zoology graduate, specialising in marine biology, Rosslyn spent 20 years in the corporate world focused on strategy execution and change management. The volunteering she did with Sharklab Malta and the Edinburgh Shoreline project opened her eyes to the impact that marine conservation work could have. She has supported the environment sector since, allowing her to make best use of her experience and networks, alongside a life-long knowledge and passion for nature conservation.

Her current roles include Board Member of Sharklab Malta, Steering Committee member for the Edinburgh Shoreline project, and Project Manager for a proposed combined Shoreline and Heriot-Watt project in the Forth. In all roles she aims is to create opportunities for people from all walks of life to enjoy our beautiful oceans and participate in their conservation.

She is delighted to be joining the Project Seagrass Board of Trustees. As a shark lover, she knows how important seagrass is as a safe environment for all marine creatures, having seen a rescued Nursehound shelter in Posidonia oceanica in Malta. She was also fascinated to learn that the gaels in Scotland used seagrass to thatch their roofs as it was stronger than straw!

Jake Davies

Trustee

About Jake

Growing up along the coast of Pen Llŷn, North Wales has meant that the marine environment has always been a big part of Jake’s life. His passion for the marine environment led him to study Marine Biology at Bangor University, where he’s been part of numerous projects to better understand a range of marine species and habitats from seagrass to sharks. In 2016, Jake joined Project Seagrass as an intern where he assisted in data collection and spreading awareness of Seagrass in North Wales. Following the internship, he continued to work closely with Project Seagrass as a regional ambassador.

His passion for marine life, exploring the underwater world and technology doesn’t stop there. As a Professional Scuba diver and underwater videographer (JDScuba), he reveals what’s found beneath the waves to wider audiences via social media and TV. Bringing together his enjoyment of research and providing engaging content to bridge the two areas together.

He is honoured to be joining the Project Seagrass Board of Trustees. He hopes to bring his hours of knowledge gained from spending time amongst the seagrass leaves, experience of media and use of different technologies to help in engaging wider audiences in finding out more about the importance of Seagrass habitats and the valuable groundbreaking work carried out by Project Seagrass.

Mike Furness

Trustee

About Mike

Mike’s early career aspiration was to have a job that required wellies, so it wasn’t too surprising that he ended up with an ecology degree and boots to suit. After an early spell in the water industry, Mike’s career has been split between forestry, countryside access and environmental consulting, with a recent focus on environmental impact assessments.

In 1992 he set up, and still helps to run, a volunteer conservation group managing an award-winning local nature reserve in Oxfordshire. Mike hopes that his long experience of working with volunteers, of practical conservation and environmental projects, and hundreds of grant applications will be of value to Project Seagrass.

Picking seagrass spathes by torchlight at 3am in water barely 4″ deep, Mike was surprised by a matchbox-sized creature repeatedly knocking his searching fingers. A plucky, over-ambitious ‘squidlet’ was letting Mike know who’s home this was. Young, squid became a regular delight during early morning seed collection.

Dr. Sarah Pilgrim

Trustee

About Sarah

Bio Coming Soon