Developing ecological solutions to plastic pollution

CASE award with Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, Samos (COLE_UPML20ARIES)

Developing ecological solutions to plastic pollution

CASE award with Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, Samos (COLE_UPML20ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Matthew Cole, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

Dr Trevor Tolhurst, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Pennie Lindeque, Plymouth Marine Laboratory


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.

Project aims:

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?

Research methodology and training.

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.

Person specification.

The project would suit an exemplary student with a degree in biosciences, environmental science or oceanography. 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.

The successful candidate will be hosted at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.


  • 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.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • 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 (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

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