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A scuba diver wearing flippers and an oxygen tank underwater taking photos of a coral reef. There are multiple species of fish swimming around the diver and coral.

Ralph Brown Expedition Award

The Ralph Brown Expedition Award is a single annual award of £12,500, offered to the leader of an expedition working in an aquatic environment. 

About the Award

The Ralph Brown Expedition Award is a single annual award of £12,500, offered to an experienced researcher leading a research expedition working in an aquatic environment. This includes the study of coral reefs, rivers, lakes and shallow seas. The project should be of value to the host country and, where possible, to the local community.

The award has been established in memory of Ralph Brown; a Californian who lived much of his life in New Zealand. He took part in expeditions and was a keen advocate of the use of jet boats to navigate inaccessible and dangerous rivers.

Brown died in 1996, shortly after winning the World Jet Boat Championship in Canada. He bequeathed a portion of his estate to RGS-IBG to fund both the Award and the Grants Officer at the Society. The Ralph Brown Award has supported projects since 1998, ranging from the wetlands of Ukraine to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, from coral reef studies to mountain river hazard surveys, and studies of human interaction with waterways.

Applicants must be Fellows or Members of the Society. The grant is open to applicants from any nation.

Deadline: 23 November


Apply now

All prospective grant applicants are encouraged to read our Advice and Resources pages, which include more information about the grants programme, its conditions, how to apply for a grant and what is expected if your application is successful. Please read this information carefully and send your application, or any enquiries, by email to


Previous recipients

2024: Professor Niki Alsford (University of Central Lancashire). 'Haenyeo Voices: Harmonising Haenyeo Traditional Knowledge with Ecological Baseline Monitoring to Uncover Climate Change Impacts on Jeju Island Reefs'

The HAENYEO VOICES project explores the repercussions of climate change on reef systems in Jeju, South Korea, through the convergence of traditional knowledge from Haenyeo (female divers) and ecological baseline monitoring of their cultivated reef environments. Employing advanced 3D modelling, HAENYEO VOICES will oversee and assess transformations transpiring within a 10mx10m reef ecosystem. This original methodology will prompt extensive insights into climate-induced
impacts, fostering a unique synergy between Haenyeo traditional knowledge and scientific baseline monitoring.

2024: Dr Charlotte Hopkins (University of Hull). 'Using pelagic SBRUVs for a biogeographic exploration of Scottish elasmobranchs'

Globally, elasmobranchs are declining and many near-shore species are facing extinction. Our knowledge of temperate elasmobranch communities and environmental drivers of patterns of their distribution and abundance is limited. High mobility, ontogenetic shifts in habitat preference and broad geographic ranges are particular research challenges. Here, we will use Pelagic Baited Remote Underwater Stereo-Video Systems (pelagic stereo-BRUVs) for the first time, in remote
near-shore zones of Scotland, to provide information on behaviour, relative abundance, size, spatial distribution and association with geographic features of pelagic elasmobranch assemblages. Results will inform conservation policy and develop local knowledge of marine

2023: Dr James Guest and Liam Lachs (Newcastle University). 'The shifting structure of coral communities: hotspots, thermal refugia, and mass bleaching resistance'

Coral reefs are facing unprecedented declines due to climate change, marine heatwaves, and mass coral bleaching events. Coral reef structure will change dramatically, but the extent of change will depend on the population dynamics of coral taxa with contrasting life histories and varying resistance to coral bleaching. These processes will likely be affected by local thermal regimes like persistent hotspots and thermal refugia. Focusing on the isolated reefs of Palau, Micronesia, this expedition will establish the links between population dynamics, thermal regimes, and bleaching resistance, and apply population projection models to forecast shifts in community structure under climate change.

2022: Professor Lee Brown (University of Leeds). 'Long term response of river ecosystems to glacier retreat'

The pioneering AASER network established a baseline, 25 years ago, for understanding how glaciers influence river biodiversity, hydrology, geomorphology and water quality in eight European mountain regions. Space-for-time surveys were undertaken originally but glaciers in all regions have now retreated substantially due to climate warming, offering opportunities to observe temporal changes directly. Expeditions to Greenland and Norway will resample 30 sites on 16 rivers. With AASER network collaborators, this project will integrate results into a pan-European analysis to document the implications of glacier loss for downstream river ecosystems, inform policy-makers and conservation groups, and input to future IPCC and IPBES reports.

2021: Dr Nicholas Girkin (Cranfield University). 'Mapping the extent and vulnerability of Central American peatland carbon stocks' 

Tropical peatlands account for 11% of global peatland area, but store 19% of peat carbon. While recent work has improved estimates for South American and Central African peatlands, data for Central America is limited. Current estimates are that Panamanian peatlands cover 7,900 square km, storing 2.4 GtC, representing 80% of the Central American peatland carbon pool. However, this relies on studies prior to the development of modern remote sensing techniques. In this project, we will deliver accurate estimates for Central American peatland extent, carbon storage, and vulnerability to disturbance, and work with policy-makers to improve understanding and protection of these sites.

2020: Dr Gaia Stucky de Quay (University of Texas at Austin). 'Constraining river erosion rates and long-term evolution of volcanic island landscapes in the Azores and Madeira archipelagos​'

Volcanic ocean islands form remarkable natural experiments for investigating changes in topography and hydrology over geologic time. After construction, their surfaces dramatically transform from bare, un-dissected surfaces into vegetated landscapes with incised channels, deep gorges, and powerful waterfalls. However, the relative role of climate and the extent to which it sets the pace for volcanic landscape evolution is poorly understood. This expedition will determine river erosion rates and collect geomorphic observations, focusing on intra- and inter-island variability in the Azores and Madeira archipelagos. Results will shed light into controlling processes and patterns common to all oceanic landscapes globally.

2019: Dr Maria Beger (University of Leeds). 'Coral Community Demographics: a predictive framework for the long-term viability of subtropical corals'

With tropical coastal temperatures rising at an alarming rate, subtropical coral populations have been heralded as potential future coral refugia. However, knowledge regarding the mechanisms behind their persistence in stressful subtropical conditions is lacking. Consequently, we are currently unable to comprehend the future viability of these environments, let alone their capacity for facilitating the future persistence of threatened species. This project will address this challenge by quantifying the demographic life-history strategies of subtropical coral populations, and how they vary from populations on declining tropical coral reefs; thereby improving our capacity to forecast the future of these marginal, yet important ecosystems.

2018: Dr Ceri Lewis (University of Exeter). 'Assessing the risk of marine microplastic to the unique biota of the Galapagos'

The Galapagos Islands, famous for their unique biodiversity, occupy a geographically isolated position in the Pacific Ocean, yet are under threat from large quantities of marine plastics littering their shores. Galapagos is a priority for improved marine litter management, but there is currently no data on the extent and distribution of microplastic pollution in Galapagos coastal waters or their uptake into marine biota to support such actions. This project will undertake the first field-sampling programme on Galapagos to quantify and characterise marine microplastic and its impacts on marine invertebrate fauna, whilst developing local science and education capacity in marine pollution.

2017: Professor Andy Hodson (University of Sheffield). 'Rapid ventilation of sub-permafrost methane through pingos, springs and pockmarks in the coastal High Arctic'

Throughout the spring and summer of 2017, Professor Andy Hodson and his team will be investigating methane escape from beneath permafrost via shallow marine and terrestrial seepages in northern and central Spitsbergen. The escape of this dangerous greenhouse gas will be linked not only to contemporary climate change, but also to landscape changes over the last 12,000 years. Remotely operated vehicles and bespoke groundwater samplers will be employed, allowing the team to describe the sources, origins and dynamics of methane escape throughout the entire year.


2016: Dr Michael Chadwick (King's College London). 'Exploring biodiversity of headwater streams in the Temburong District, Brunei Darussalam'

Temburong District is situated within a biodiversity hotspot with pristine topical climax forest and river ecosystems. It is a priority location for conservation and restoration efforts and a suitable reference site for comparable ecosystems, but limited biogeographical data exists for the region. This project seeks to document novel aquatic habitats and biodiversity using a combination of survey methods and aerial and underwater imagery from impenetrable headwater waterfalls to swiftly flowing coastal plain meanders along the unique Sungai Temburong River and its largest tributary, Sungai Belalong.

2015: Professor Alex Rogers and Dominic Andradi-Brown (University of Oxford). 'Thinking Deep: Exploring the role of mesophotic coral ecosystems as depth refuges'

Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) (reefs at 30-150m depth) have been poorly explored due to inaccessibility, but are likely to be buffered from shallow reef impacts because of depth. With shallow reefs severely threatened, crucial questions for conservation managers include what percentage of shallow species can be found on MCEs, and do MCE populations represent discrete (isolated) populations, or are they fully connected to shallow populations.

MCEs refuges may not be beneficial if exploited by invasive species such as Lionfish (Pterois volitans). This expedition explores Mesoamerican Barrier Reef MCE biodiversity in Honduras and investigates their roles as coral and fish refuges.

2014: Dr Paul Aplin (University of Nottingham). 'A spatial assessment of how oil palm cultivation is degrading the North Selangor peat swamp in Malaysia'

Many peat swamps in Malaysia are experiencing rapid and large-scale conversion to oil palm agriculture, contrary to prevailing environmental guidelines. This project combined in situ vegetation, soil and gas flux data from North Selangor, with airborne remotely sensed imagery to investigate the environmental effects of this land use change.

2013: Dr Merlijn Jocque (Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences). 'Hurricane dispersal of aquatic invertebrates in Honduras; or how do microcrustacea (Ostracoda, Cladocera and Copepoda) end up in tank bromeliads?'

The project sampled a large number of locations in two mountainous regions in North-Eastern Honduras close to the coast with complex topography, and thus different hurricane exposure. The team obtained samples from a wide geographic coverage to test the hypothesis that hurricanes affect diversity patterns of aquatic invertebrates.

2012: Dr Richard Teeuw (University of Portsmouth). 'Coastal geomorphology, geochemistry and biodiversity in a volcanic setting: the NW coast of Dominica'

A multidisciplinary study of hotspring conditions, habitats and landscape stability. This project examines the coastal flanks of an active volcano, Morne aux Diables, on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

2011: Dr Phillip Dustan (University of Charleston and Biosphere Foundation).

The Menjangan Island Reef Project Indonesia, seeks to preserve ocean biodiversity in Marine Protected Areas by defining the tipping point between reef degradation and collapse of fish populations.

2010: Dr Helen Findlay (Plymouth Marine Laboratory).

The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change, undergoing dramatic increases in temperature and rapidly becoming affected by ocean acidification. This project measured the changes in levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, ocean and ice.​

2009: Dr Peter Long (University of Bath).

Wetlands are some of the most important and threatened ecosystems in Madagascar as they provide vital services for the human population. This project mapped those services and evaluated the impact of population growth and climate change.

2008: Dr Ruth Robinson (St Andrew University).

This project documented the quantity and characteristics of the sediment and water transported along the length of the tropical Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, in order to link the flux of sediment and carbon to its source areas in the catchment.

2007: Dr Eduard Reinhardt (McMaster University, Canada).

This research documented the Thecamoebians and Foraminifera in submerged cave systems in Mexico, in order to determine whether they can be used as an environmental proxy to better understand cave evolution.

2006: Iwona Conlan (University of Melbourne).

This project investigated the geomorphic processes and hydrological conditions responsible for the maintenance of large pools on the lower-Mekong River. The pools, which provide a dry-season habitat for numerous fish species, are at risk of filling in with sediment if large scale hydropower development proceeds on the upper-Mekong in China.

2005: Dr Colin Breen (University of Ulster).

The University of Ulster in Northern Ireland partnered with a number of agencies within Tanzania and Zanzibar in order to research the Marine environment in Zanzibar. 

2004: Dr Terence Dawson (Oxford University).

This project studied two reefs on the coast of Cuba, each having undergone different levels of disturbance. It gave a better understanding of human impact/natural disturbances on reef systems and laid the foundation for a sustainable and productive long-term monitoring programme.

2003: Dr Ellinor Michel (University of Amsterdam).

The team surveyed the fluvial wetlands of Malagarasi, Western Tanzania, to provide baseline scientific data on the biodiversity and functioning of this extensive yet under-explored environment.

2003: Dr Richard Taylor (University College London).

The project explored the impact of recent climate change on aquatic ecosystems of the Rwenzori Mountains, East Africa.​

2002: Colonel Mike Allen (Independent and Zoological Society of London).

The team carried out a fish and biodiversity survey of the navigable stretch of the Babai River, Nepal, in order to provide essential baseline data for a longer-term project and a conservation management plan for the Royal Bardia National Park area.

2001: Dr Andrew Plater (University of Liverpool).

The project studied the nature of the sedimentary record of the floodplain lakes in Mkuze Wetland, South Africa.

2001: Daniel Bennett (University of Aberdeen).

The project sort to determine the absolute abundance of hippopotamus on the Black Volta River and the abundance of the slender-snouted crocodile, in the BUI National Park, Ghana.

2001: Dr Scott McMurry (Texas Tech University, USA).

This project examined exposure and response of Morelet’s crocodile populations to endocrine disrupting compounds in contaminated lagoons in Belize, Central America.​

2001: Professor Peter Smart (University of Bristol).

The project studied hydrochemical processes and cave development along the Caribbean Coast, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

2000: Jennifer Sampson (10,000 Years Institute. Washington, USA).

The project researched the aquatic communities of the Selenga River, Russia, determining the effects of chemical contaminants on its unique biodiversity.

2000: Falk Huettmann (University of New Brunswick, Canada).

The project investigated the importance of the complex Sea of Okhotsk ecosystem, Russia, using migrating shorebirds and their habitat as indicators.

2000: Dr David Higgitt (Durham University).

The project studied the environmental sustainability of the Yangtze river as a densely populated agricultural region and site of the Three Gorges Project.

1999: Peter Meadows (University of Glasgow).

The expedition studied human impact on mountain environments in the Chitral area of the Hindu Kush. These are some of the least accessible and scientifically explored parts of northern Pakistan.

1999: Dr Steve Ormerod (Cardiff University).

River Biodiversity of Mustang and the Kali Gandaki Valley, Nepal, and the rapid environmental change that threatens these rivers systems.

1998: Dr David Minter (CABI).

Ukraine has varied landscapes, many of which were severely affected by fallout from Chernobyl. However, western Polissya is clean and contains many forests, meadows, bogs, rivers and lakes. The team searched for new locations of rare organisms, surveyed & described areas suitable for conservation, recommended practical conservation measures to local government agencies and trained local post graduate students as field.