Microplastic Pollution in the Galapagos Marine Food Web - Biosciences - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2807

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Prof Tamara Galloway

Co-Supervisor: Dr Pennie Lindeque

Co-Supervisor:  Prof Brendan Godley

Co-Supervisor: Sharon Johnson

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project description:

Marine plastic litter is a global conservation issue of high concern.  The Galapagos Archipelago is no exception. Plastic debris pollutes numerous locations around the islands, although its sources, distribution and effects remain unstudied. Galapagos is a unique habitat: its geographical isolation, climatic conditions governed by El Niño events and varied habitats give rise to unique endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. Many have evolved to fill specific ecological niches and their ability to adapt to rapid environmental change is unknown.

In this project you will study the impacts of marine litter on marine invertebrates in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, producing unique baseline data on microplastic contamination and its consequences in the Galapagos food web in comparison to more cosmopolitan species. The project is supported by a wider programme facilitated by the Galapagos Conservation Trust, to tackle plastic pollution through multi-disciplinary science, innovative waste management and outreach.


Image 1: Plastic on a beach on San Cristobal island, Galapagos © Britta Denise Hardesty. Image 2: The impacts of microplastics on invertebrates in Galapagos has not been studied to date © GCT

Project Aims and Methods:

To study the impacts of marine litter on marine invertebrates in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). 

Specific objectives:
1. Provide quantified data of the presence of microplastics and associated marine pollutants in selected marine invertebrate communities of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).
2. Conduct laboratory studies to determine the biological effects of microplastics exposure, including species that are widely distributed or occupying specific ecological niches.
3. From this data, model the ‘sink and cycle rates’ of micro plastics via marine invertebrate communities and potential impact on the food chain of ingestion by vertebrate fauna.

You will survey marine invertebrate communities from selected sites across the islands, to construct a unique, baseline dataset of plastic contamination in the Galapagos food web. Test species will include endemic and commercially important species, e.g. Slipper lobsters.  Laboratory exposures will determine impacts on growth, survival and reproduction, using ecotoxicology bioassays to measure biological effects e.g. DNA damage, immune function. This will enable hypotheses to be tested relating to endemism, resilience and adaptation to anthropogenic stressors. Baseline data will allow the impacts of future intervention activities to be determined and permit comparison with well characterised local study sites in the UK and beyond. 


You should have a good honours degree or equivalent in marine biology, biological or environmental sciences or similar subject. An enthusiastic interest in environmental issues and excellent communication skills would be an advantage, as you may be working with a variety of stakeholders. Some knowledge of Spanish is an advantage, but not essential.

Case Award Description:

The Case partner is the Galapagos Conservation Trust, the only UK NGO to solely focus on the conservation and sustainable development of the Galapagos Islands. They will provide £1,000 per year and host the candidate in their office in central London for a minimum of three months, offering training in grant writing, educational outreach and conservation science. They will further support the project through connections with their networks in the Galapagos Islands with science, education and government agencies.


This exciting project offers a unique combination of field and laboratory experience and interdisciplinary training in ecotoxicology, marine biology, fieldwork and conservation science. As part of a wider programme, the results from this project will be presented directly to the Galapagos National Park Directorate with management recommendations and results will be disseminated to local communities via complementary educational projects run by the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Fieldwork will be undertaken with the support of science partners collaborating with the Galapagos Conservation Trust to ensure optimum training and cost effectiveness.


Galloway et al (2017) Interactions of microplastic throughout the marine ecosystem, Nature Ecology and Evolution,1,0116
Galapagos information:

Entry requirements:        

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Officepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.