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Developing ecological solutions to plastic pollution (COLEUPML20ARIES)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, January 07, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


Microplastic debris is a prolific environmental contaminant, impacting on marine ecosystems across the globe. New government policies aim to limit plastic waste generated from cosmetics and single-use bottles and bags, but further effort is required to identify other types of plastic that pose the greatest challenge to the marine environment. Stemming the inputs of microplastic debris into the marine environment is a key challenge; our research group is currently exploring whether biological remediation could mitigate the flow of microplastics from source to sea.


You will investigate whether bioremediation could be successfully employed to reduce the flux of microplastics into the marine environment. Key research questions include:

- Which plastics are most harmful to the marine environment, and to what extent could policy intervention or bioremediation limit their entry into our seas?
- Can biogenic reefs (e.g. mussels) efficiently remove waterborne microplastics from polluted waters without causing harm to the organism and local environment?
- Do macrophtyes (e.g. saltmarshes, seagrasses) promote microplastic deposition without causing harm to the local ecosystem?


You will design, test and optimise different remedial approaches by conducting experimental work in our mesocosms and flume tanks, and evaluate the environmental impact and efficacy of solutions through fieldwork in the UK and Greece (in collaboration with the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation). Throughout the PhD you will be supported by an interdisciplinary supervisory team with expertise in microplastics, marine ecology, ecotoxicology, conservation, sedimentology, coastal processes, and environmental psychology. You will have access to workshops and in-house training, covering microplastic extraction and characterisation, experimental design, benthic analyses, scientific writing and statistics, and be encouraged to publish and present your work at international conferences.


We seek an enthusiastic, dynamic and engaged student with a passion for conducting high quality research both in the field and laboratory. The successful student will join the microplastics research group at PML and undertake research placements with UEA and in Greece.

More information on the supervisor for this project:
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time or part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Partner: Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation
Eligibility requirements: First degree in Biosciences, Environmental Science or Oceanography

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.

For further information, please visit View Website


Clark, J. R., Cole, M., Lindeque, P. K., Fileman, E., Blackford, J., Lewis, C., ... & Galloway, T. S. (2016). Marine microplastic debris: a targeted plan for understanding and quantifying interactions with marine life. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(6), 317-324.

Cole, M., Coppock, R., Lindeque, P. K., Altin, D., Reed, S., Pond, D. W., ... & Booth, A. M. (2019). Effects of Nylon Microplastic on Feeding, Lipid Accumulation, and Moulting in a Coldwater Copepod. Environmental Science & Technology, 53(12) 7075-7082.

Beaumont, N. J., Aanesen, M., Austen, M. C., Börger, T., Clark, J. R.,

Cole, M., ... & Wyles, K. J. (2019). Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 142, 189-195.

Hale, R., Jacques, R. O., & Tolhurst, T. J. (2019). Determining How Functionally Diverse Intertidal Sediment Species Preserve Mudflat Ecosystem Properties After Abrupt Biodiversity Loss. Journal of Coastal Research, 35(2), 389-396.

Bricker, S. B., Ferreira, J. G., Zhu, C., Rose, J. M., Galimany, E., Wikfors, G., ... & Grizzle, R. (2017). Role of shellfish aquaculture in the reduction of eutrophication in an urban estuary. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(1), 173-183.

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