Marine Conservation Research

"I was pleasantly surprised by the number of porpoise we encountered and detected on the hydrophone. I have had my perception of acoustics positively changed - with directed uses for conservation solutions. I'm going to go away and learn more about acoustics!"

Grant awarded - £1000

The project focused on the presence of harbour porpoises, Europe’s smallest cetacean, in the Thames Estuary, the UK’s busiest urban waterway.

MCR and partners conducted the first dedicated surveys for harbour porpoises in this area to provide information to inform conservation.  The surveys were conducted from West London to the outer estuary, in winter and summer 2015, and investigated the species' seasonal distribution, as well as quantifying threats (e.g. from underwater noise, fishing activities and litter). 

The team also conducted outreach and educational activities to inspire local people to connect with their environment and wildlife. These included virtual ‘lessons’ for school pupils, public open days on board the research vessel, lectures for A level students and a participants scheme for individuals who would benefit from the unique insight into and experience of field research by joining the team to work along-side them.


The survey undertaken in March 2015 provides the first dedicated data from a systematic survey documenting porpoise presence and distribution in the Greater Thames Estuary. Data from the survey has been contributed to various biodiversity databases (in Essex and Kent, Greenspace information for Greater London, and ZSL Thames Marine mammal survey map) so is now widely available for use in future impact assessments and reviews of mammals within the Greater Thames estuary.

Through two public open days; in September 2014 and March 2015, various media articles, shore watches and radio broadcasts, people who live and work along the Thames learnt about the harbour porpoises that are seen along the tidal Thames. Through leaflets and social media, many more people are now aware of the threats facing this species in this unique environment and will hopefully support better protection.

Through survey data, floating marine litter densities and relative background noise levels have been mapped across the tidal Thames area for the first time. This will allow a comparison dataset for future surveys in order for trends in these anthropogenic pressures to be measured. 

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