A DEEP sea coral expert has received a prestigious cash grant to fund her work studying reefs in the Southern Ocean.

Dr Michelle Taylor, from the University of Essex School of Biological Sciences, is working on a £278,000 project focusing on a type of coral called octocorallia.

Samples set to be analysed have been collected over the past ten years from several Antarctic expeditions, museums and institutes around the world.

Dr Taylor's project is one of 17 from across the world to receive a share of around £3.5 million from the Darwin Plus initiative, designed to support the preservation of international nature.

She said: “The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area is one of the world’s largest protected areas, protecting vast deep-ocean areas that harbour diverse, vulnerable marine ecosystems.

“Understanding the MPA’s role regionally is important for conservation management and this project investigates deep-sea diversity and the genetic connectivity of habitat-forming organisms within the protected area and the across the wider South Atlantic region."

Thérèse Coffey, member of the Environmental Audit Committee said: "These 17 projects receiving funding through Darwin Plus will make a significant contribution to international conservation, demonstrating the UK's global leadership in this field.

"Protecting and enhancing nature in our Overseas Territories will help to make crucial activities such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism more sustainable.”