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Persistent chemical threats in the estuarine environment: sources and solutions to marine water quality challenges in the Native European Oyster

Project Description

Scientific background

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous and persistent environmental pollutants, which can enter the marine environment from many natural and anthropogenic sources. Many PAHs are classified as ‘hazardous priority pollutants’ as they have toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic properties. Bivalves can be used as sentinel species in monitoring programmes as they bioaccumulate PAHs, and stringent regulatory limits for PAHs within all foods are in place. Oysters are important species both ecologically’, as ‘ecosystem engineers’, and commercially as high-value seafood and the European oyster is included in the OSLO-PARIS-Convention´s List of Threatened/Declining Species and is protected under the EU Habitats Directive. This PhD will focus on determining the distribution, type, abundance and source of PAHs in the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in Essex, UK. Importantly the project will determine whether the distribution of PAHs in the sediments, water and catchment infrastructure impact wild shellfish beds, and particularly protected native oyster beds in the MCZ.

Research methodology
The student will use state-of-the-art triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS to measure PAH pollutants in water and sediments from terrestrial, freshwater and wastewater infrastructure sites, and sediment and shellfish samples from within the MCZ. There will be exciting opportunities to develop methodology and experiments to determine whether PAH pollutants affect shellfish physiology, function, growth and survival, using the Aquatic Sciences centre at Essex.

The student will join the vibrant Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the University of Essex and will become an associate member of our NERC cohort training from our ARIES Doctoral Training Partnership. Training will include sampling at sea, sediment/water quality monitoring, and advanced analytical chemistry for PAH analysis using GG-MS/MS. The student will be supported to develop quantitative biology skills including coding in R. This is a collaborative project with Anglian Water and there will be opportunity to work in partnership with this stakeholder.

Person specification

We are looking for a candidate enthusiastic about environmental science, marine conservation and water management with at least an undergraduate bachelor of Science (2:1 or equivalent) degree in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, microbial biology or environmental sciences. Candidates with experience in aquatic fieldwork and working with stakeholders are desirable. A driving licence is essential.

This project has fully secured funding and we are looking for the studentship to start as soon as possible in 2020 – April 2020 at the latest. So please apply asap as we may terminate the search if a candidate is found. The final deadline for applications is the 15th March 2020. Contact the supervisors for more information.

Submit the following to
2 page CV, cover letter detailing why they are the best candidate for this position and when they can start, degree transcripts, references to contact (not needed up front), confirmation of full valid driving licence to allow driving in the UK.

Funding Notes

Successful candidates will be awarded a studentship which includes living costs equal to a UKRI stipend - in 2020/21 the stipend is £15,009. A generous Research Training Support Grant, ancillary research costs and Fees are fully met by the funder. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. Non-UK EU-resident applicants would need to provide evidence of finances to cover increased International Fees in their application cover letter – this is approximately an extra £10,000pa.


Allison, S. Hardy, M, Hayward, K., Cameron, T.C., Underwood, G.J.C. (2019) Strongholds of Ostrea edulis populations in estuaries in Essex, SE England and their association with traditional oyster aquaculture: evidence to support a MPA designation. Journal of Marine Biological Association of the UK.

McGenity TJ, Folwell BD, McKew BA, Sanni GO. (2012) Marine crude-oil biodegradation: a central role for interspecies interactions. Aquatic Biosystems 8(10): doi: 10.1186/2046-9063-8-10.

McKew B.A., Coulon F., Osborn AM., Timmis KN. and McGenity TJ. (2007) Determining the identity and roles of oil-metabolizing marine bacteria from the Thames estuary, UK. Environmental Microbiology 9:1 165-176.

Folwell BD, McGenity TJ, Whitby C (2016) Characterisation of biofilm and planktonic bacterial and fungal communities transforming high molecular weight polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Appl Environ Microbiol 82:2288-2299.

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