PhD Studentship: Microplastic Pollution in the Galapagos Marine Food Web

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Main Supervisor:  Prof Tamara Galloway, School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Co-Supervisor: Dr Pennie Lindeque, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prof Brendan Godley, Centre for Ecology and Conservation

Co-Supervisor:  Sharon Johnson, Galapagos Conservation Trust

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.


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.

Candidate: 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

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.

3.5 year studentship: UK/EU/International tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at the Research Council rate of £14,553 per year. 

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South West England