PhD Studentships: Coral Reefs as Critical Sources of Carbonate Sand Generation: Quantifying Links Between Reef Ecology and Sand Production on Caribbean Reefs

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership. The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and the 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

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 for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Professor Chris Perry,  
Co-Supervisor: Dr Sindia Sosdian
Co-Supervisor: Dr Lorenzo Alvarez-Filip

Project description:

Tropical coral reefs are iconic ecosystems that sustain not only high levels of biodiversity, but also provide numerous ecosystem goods and services that directly benefit society. Some of these goods and services are well documented and can be quantified with increasing reliability. However, far more poorly quantified are rates of carbonate sand production from reefs – a process largely dependent on reef-associated species – and which is essential to sustain reef habitat development, reef growth and, especially, the maintenance of sand-dominated beaches and islands. Recent methodological developments provide a framework for using census–based datasets to quantify the links between reef ecology and sand production, and this project will build on these by developing new quantitative methods for Caribbean species, and then apply these to sites along the Meso-American reef in Mexico, a coastline that is especially dependent on reef-derived sediment generation for beach maintenance.

Project Aims and Methods

Reef-derived sediment is largely sourced from the skeletal organisms that inhabit reefs, from calcareous plants, and indirectly from grazing by various reef-associated taxa (Perry et al. 2011). Sand production by reef organisms occurs at different rates and results in different types and sizes of sand, but is inherently linked to reef species abundance and diversity. Quantifying the links between reef ecology and sand production rates is thus paramount for coastal vulnerability assessments, although relevant methodologies to attempt this have, until recently, been essentially non-existent. The project will build on recent approaches which have quantified sand generation based on ecological census data (Perry et al. 2015, 2016, 2017), by: 1) establishing a set of empirical datasets for a range of sand producing species relevant to the Caribbean; 2) build these into a user-interface that can be readily employed across multiple locations; and 3) then use the resultant methodologies to quantify sand generation rates at sites along the Meso-American reef system.


This project would ideally suit a candidate with a background and interest in either coral reef ecology, tropical coastal geomorphology or marine geology, and with a keen interest in undertaking tropical marine-based field research. Some experience of SCUBA (or a willingness to learn) are essential.

Funding Maximum

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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South West England