Doctorado para entender el impacto de la ingestion de plasticos por especies marinas como ballenas, delfines, tortugas o tiburones ~

6 de noviembre de 2022

Doctorado para entender el impacto de la ingestion de plasticos por especies marinas como ballenas, delfines, tortugas o tiburones

Oferta compartida por Cristina

Plastic pollution and ocean giants: Investigating the extent and impacts of plastic ingestion by marine megafauna

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Sarah Nelms

Location: Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Penryn.

Additional Supervisors

Professor Brendan Godley

Location: Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Cornwall.

Professor Penelope Lindeque

Location: Microplastics Research Group, Plymouth Marine Laboratory,  Prospect Place, Plymouth, Devon

Rob Deaville

Location: Institute of Zoology, Regent's Park, London 

James Barnett

Location: Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, Institute of Zoology/ Zoological Society of London 

About the Partnership

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 five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, 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 eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
Payment of university tuition fees;
A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses
Project details

Project Background 

The widespread and pervasive nature of plastic pollution has resulted in a growing body of evidence documenting the detrimental effects of anthropogenic waste on marine organisms. Over the last two decades, the number of marine species known to be impacted by debris, the majority of which is plastic, has more than trebled. Of particular concern are the marine megafauna, namely marine mammals (e.g. cetaceans and pinnipeds), elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), and marine turtles. These large marine vertebrates play key roles in the functioning and maintenance of marine habitats and are often considered indicators of marine ecosystem health. Many are also of conservation concern due to the plethora of anthropogenic pressures exerted on them. Plastic ingestion by marine megafauna can lead to a range of lethal and sub-lethal impacts, including intestinal blockage and internal injury, dietary dilution, malnutrition, exposure to chemical contaminants and increased vulnerability to disease. Our understanding of the fate of very small plastic particles, such as microplastics and nanoplastics, within mammalian gastrointestinal tracts, and the potential health implications, is extremely limited. 

Stranded sperm whale, Cornwall. Credit CSIP-ZSL 

Stranded fin whale, Cornwall. Credit: Rob Deaville 

Project Aims and Methods 

In this PhD, the student will build on previous research undertaken by the supervisory team from the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme at the Institute of Zoology (IoZ)/ Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to understand the extent and potential impacts of plastic ingestion by a range of marine megafauna species, including whales, dolphins, seals, turtles, and sharks, found in UK waters.  

There is scope for the student to develop the specific objectives of the project but suggested aims include:  Work alongside strandings scientists and veterinary pathologists to develop a method of sampling large marine animals collected by the UK stranding networks for evidence of plastic consumption 
Characterise any plastic debris (including microplastics) within the gastrointestinal tracts of the stranded animals, with a view to identifying potential sources and informing policy  
Using data from strandings records and published research, investigate the differences in exposure to plastic pollution among species, life-stages, and feeding strategies/ diet 
Examine spatial patterns to assess species vulnerability by exploring the overlap between species distributions and habitat use with hotspots of plastic pollution 
Work with the supervisory team and histopathologists at IoZ to co-develop methods for examining digestive tract samples for the presence and fate of nanoplastics  
Investigate the link between plastic ingestion and exposure to chemicals, such as phthalates.  
Consider the adverse health impacts of plastic ingestion for individual animals as well as the potential population-level effects.   

Candidate requirements 

The project would suit an exemplary candidate with a First or Upper Second class honours degree in biosciences, marine conservation, zoology or environmental science. We seek an enthusiastic, dynamic and engaged candidate with experience and a passion for undertaking high quality laboratory studies, ideally with experience in ecotoxicological research.  

Project partners  

The student will be primarily based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall where they will have access to a wide variety of research facilities and a vibrant and welcoming community. The student will also spend time at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), which hosts exceptional microscopy suites and an ultraclean microplastic research laboratory, as well as the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme facility in Cornwall and at the headquarters at the Institute of Zoology in London. The student will also have access to facilities on the University of Exeter’s Streatham campus, such as ecotoxicology laboratories and bio-imaging suites. 


This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic and challenging project in which they will learn advanced scientific skills in experimental design, data management, statistics and translating research into practice. The supervisory team and the GW4+ DTP will provide a holistic training platform, providing excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g. statistics, writing, communication), and the student will have full access to the outstanding training opportunities offered through the Exeter Graduate School  ‘Effective Researcher Development Programme’. The student will have access to world-class research facilities and the supervisory team are committed to providing the student with a comprehensive training experience, encouraging publication of their work in high-quality journals and research dissemination via international conferences and outreach activities.  

Background reading and references 

Nelms SE, Barnett J, Brownlow A, Davison NJ, Deaville R, Galloway TS, Lindeque PK, Santillo D, Godley BJ (2019) Microplastics in marine mammals stranded around the British coast: ubiquitous but transitory? Scientific Reports DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37428-3 

Nelms SE, Galloway TS, Godley BJ, Jarvis DS, Lindeque PK (2018) Investigating microplastic trophic transfer in marine top predators. Environmental Pollution. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.02.016 

Nelms SE, Parry HE, Bennett KA, Galloway TS, Godley BJ, Santillo D, Lindeque PK (2019) What goes in, must come out: Combining scat‐based molecular diet analysis and quantification of ingested microplastics in a marine top predator. Methods in Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13271. 

Senko JF, Nelms SE, Reavis J, Witherington B, Godley BJ, Wallace BP (2020) Understanding individual and population-level effects of plastic pollution on marine megafauna. Endangered Species Research. DOI: 10.3354/esr01064. 

Zantis LJ, Carroll EL, Nelms SE, Bosker T (2021) Marine mammals and microplastics: A systematic review and call for standardisation. Environmental Pollution. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.116142 

Deaville et al (2018) Final contract report to Defra 2011-2017  

NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2023 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship).

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities. With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength.

We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status. We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community. Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

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

How to apply

Apply now

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, please see the entry requirements for details.
Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process. If you are not able to upload your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees. If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 2359 hours GMT Monday 9 January 2023. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2023. For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
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.

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