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Marine Megafauna Foundation



Clare Prebble

(Whale Shark Program, MMF Mozambique)

Clare Prebble Whale Shark programme, MMF.Clare is a PhD student working in conjunction with Southampton University and the National Oceanographic Centre Southampton (NOCS).


Clare has lived in several countries around the world in Africa, the Middle East and­ Far East, however she was educated in the UK. Clare conducted her undergraduate degree in Zoology at the University of Durham, and her master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London. As part of her undergraduate degree Clare studied the feeding behavior of Angelfish in Wakatobi , Indonesia. She has also carried out volunteer work in Costa Rica on the nesting turtle population in the Tortuguero region, and has helped run a volunteer program in Tobago in the Caribbean monitoring reef health. Clare worked directly with sharks for the first time in 2010 where she contributed to the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) research on the Isle of Man with the Manx Basking Shark Watch.


Clare first came to Tofo as a research assistant for Dr Simon Pierce at the start of 2011. After nine inspiring months working as part of the whale shark research program, she saw a great opportunity to develop a PhD under the supervision of Dr Simon Pierce and Dr Clive Trueman (NOCS).


Clare is examining the movement patterns and feeding ecology of whale sharks using data from stable isotope analysis of tissue samples, and acoustic tagging. With this integrated approach Clare aims to further elucidate how and why these gentle giants use the Mozambican coastline. These methods along with individual shark information and environmental data will give a unique look into the hidden behavior of whale sharks that cannot be gleaned from other methods alone.


Clare is also collaborating with other whale shark researchers in the Western Indian Ocean, including (Dr Chris Rohner) in order to provide a large scale picture of whale shark behavior. These insights will provide valuable information that can be used to effectively manage and conserve this species not just in Mozambique, but worldwide.


Daniel van Duinkerken

(Manta Ray Program, MMF Mozambique)

Daniel van Duinkerken Student (Manta Ray Programme.‘Daan’ is a PhD student, working in conjunction with Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He was born in Switzerland and spent his younger years in the United    States, before settling in the Netherlands when he was six years old. Since a young age he has shown a keen interest in nature and the ocean environment, further developing this interest during his bachelors degree in Biology and masters in Behavioural Neuroscience at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. During his studies he was most interested in behavioral ecology and joined the MMF team in 2010 to complete a six-month project for his graduate degree on the movements of reef manta rays along the southern Mozambican coastline.


After successfully finishing his masters, he came back to Mozambique in 2011 to start his PhD with Dr. Andrea Marshall. Daan will be continuing his work on the movements of reef manta rays along the southern Mozambican coastline using cutting edge technologies such as photo-identification, acoustic telemetry and satellite telemetry. By finding out more about their movement and residency patterns, critical habitats and movement corridors, Daan hopes to gather vital information over the next few years to develop appropriate conservation strategies for this enigmatic species of ray.


His keen interest in underwater photography has also led Daan to start developing an underwater camera trap. This device would allow for continuous and long-term monitoring of visits by marine megafauna, especially manta rays, at particular sites. Additionally, Daniel is always keen to learn how to spend more time below the waters surface, and has subsequently learnt more on technical diving and how to dive with a rebreather. This specialized dive equipment will allow for longer observation times and more data collection underwater.



Elitza Germanov

(Manta Ray Program, MMF Indonesia)

Elitza Germanov Manta Ray Student Programme, MMF Indonesia.‘Ellie’ is a PhD student, working in conjunction with Murdoch University, Western Australia. From Elitza’s first glimpse beneath the sea’s surface, on a family trip to Cuba, her curiosity for the underwater world was piqued. After learning to dive in 2008, the tropical sea beckoned. In 2009, she took what should have been a “short” sabbatical from her career as a cancer researcher, in order to pursue her PADI Divemaster certification and hasn’t looked back since!


In 2011, Elitza was fortunate to visit Komodo National Park and witness a rare manta ray congregation of over 50 individuals and became entranced by these majestic animals. Since then she relocated to work in the SCUBA diving industry in the Komodo National Park and loves to share manta encounters with others. Through her work, she has found a new calling in raising awareness for the plight of manta rays. With the help of the local community she is aiding the collection of much needed information on manta rays in the hopes of changing current policies and having these magnificent species protected once and for all.


In 2013 she began a research project in Indonesia using Manta Matcher- the global online manta ray database. In October of 2014 she and Dr. Andrea Marshall published the first peer-reviewed scientific study using information gleaned from the database.


For her PhD, Ellie will will focus on uncovering the implications of plastic marine debris, particularly microplastics, on manta rays. Through this three-four year project she hopes to raise awareness of the growing large-scale global problem that is plastic marine debris in our ocean, with the aim to influence local action and policy change. Her project will be focused in Indonesia and Mozambique.


Jens Paulsen

(Whale Shark Program, MMF Tanzania)

Jens Paulsen student Whale Shark Program.Jens is a Master Student working in conjunction with the University of Bremen and the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) in Germany.


Jens was born and raised in Germany. From early on he built a strong affiliation with the aquatic environment. During his undergraduate studies he spent a lot of time abroad on marine field excursions and topped his studies with a thesis in 2014, dealing with the Ecophysiology of sea urchins and the impact of ocean acidification on these in Cape Town, South Africa. From this, his passion for applied science that also tackles global issues, was awoken.


After completing his thesis, Jens enrolled for the International Master’s program: ISATEC (International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology) to gain a deeper and profound knowledge on marine science and conservation. It was here that Jens first made contact with a huge variety of interdisciplinary approaches, enabling a broader view on biological or ecological topics and issues, specifically the link between telemetry based modelling and behavioral ecology caught Jens’ attention.


For his upcoming Master Thesis in 2015, Jens will conduct research on the behavioral ecology of Rhincodon typus, focusing on the diving and swimming behavior of the whale shark population off Mafia Island in Tanzania. Under the supervision of Dr.Chris Rohner, Jens will use cutting edge technology such as multi sensor telemetry in order to discover distinctive shark movement patterns within this area. Based on this, he aims to map movement routes over time and space to improve whale shark conservation off Mafia Island.


Katherine Burgess

(Manta Ray Program, MMF Ecuador)


Katherine is a PhD student at the University of Queensland.

 Katherine is a PhD student at the University of Queensland, Australia studying the feeding ecology of giant manta rays and the environmental drivers that bring these magnificent creatures to aggregation sites in Ecuador.


Katherine was raised in the UK and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol. She has been an avid diver since being coerced into doing a PADI open water course in Thailand many years ago and has dived in places around the world famous for their megafauna.


During her undergraduate degree, a chance encounter with MMF’s Dr Andrea Marshall led to a life changing research trip to Ecuador as a volunteer scientist to study Manta birostris at a newly discovered aggregation site for this species. From this first trip to Ecuador, she has never looked back and decided to move to Australia in order to gain more field experience and to organise a multi-disciplinary supervisory team that would guide her through a PhD on M. birostris.


For her PhD, Katherine is using stable isotope and fatty acid analysis to examine the feeding ecology of the ever elusive M. birostris along with investigating plankton dynamics, collecting in situ environmental data and processing satellite images for areas where M. birostris occur. In addition, Katherine will also be conducting biochemical analyses on tissue samples from M. birostris that have collected around the world (Myanmar, Mozambique, Western Australia, Mexico and Ecuador) in order to compare the feeding ecologies of different sub-populations.


Work in Ecuador has already shown that this region most likely hosts the largest subpopulation of giant mantas in the world. M. birostris have been shown to cover large distances and Katherine is sure her work will eventually extend to other parts of the South American continent. Particularly Peru, where in 2011 a directed manta ray fishing operation was identified which presents serious conservation concerns for M. birostris in this region.


Stella Diamant

(Project Leader, Madagascar Whale Shark Project)


Despite having grown up in multicultural Brussels.

Despite having grown up in multicultural Brussels, Stella spent much of her time dreaming of Africa. At 17, she moved to the UK where she obtained her BSc in Biology from Warwick University followed by an MSc in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation from Imperial College London.


After graduation, she worked on various conservation projects across the world and fell in love with both Madagascar and the underwater world during an internship with WWF Madagascar’s marine programme. Recently, she was based in Hawaii as Expedition Coordinator where she put together one of the largest expeditions in history to investigate plastic pollution across the Pacific.


Nevertheless, she was still drawn to Africa. She returned to Madagascar in 2014 to investigate the opportunities for researching the whale shark population found in the north of the country.


Stella joined the MMF whale shark team for their Tanzanian field season in 2015 and is now leading the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, a collaboration between MMF, Florida International University and Baleines Rand’eau, researching whale sharks in Nosy Be.


Stephanie Venables

(Manta Ray Program, MMF Indonesia)


Stephanie Venables Research Assistant volunteer Manta Ray Programme.Originally from the UK, Steph moved to Australia with her family at an early age and has since been intrigued and inspired by the ocean and marine life. She has a passion for travel and conservation and believes the more we know about a species or ecosystem, the better it can be protected. Steph graduated with a BSc in Marine Science from Murdoch University in 2011 and during her undergraduate studies aspired to pursue a career in marine research and conservation. She has since worked on manta ray populations in Australia, Mozambique and Raja Ampat, Indonesia with her postgraduate studies focusing on the impact of tourism on manta rays in Australia’s Ningaloo Marine Park.


A member of the MMF team since early 2014, Steph started off as a volunteer research assistant in Tofo and the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. After 6 months in Africa, Steph relocated to Raja Ampat, Indonesia in November 2014 to set up MMF’s manta ray research project in the region. Steph started her PhD in mid-2016 through the University of Western Australia and under the supervision of Dr. Andrea Marshall; her project focuses on manta ray population genetics. Through her research, Steph aims to use genetic methods to gather vital information on population size, structure and connectivity and ultimately develop genetic techniques into valuable conservation tools that can be applied to manta ray populations worldwide. Although her research will focus on both the Southern Mozambique and Raja Ampat Manta alfredi populations, Steph will be primarily based in Raja Ampat continuing to co-manage MMF’s regional manta ray research.

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