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PhD Opportunity: Testing the potential of seaweeds and seagrasses to improve water quality

Lead Supervisor: Mahasweta Saha 
2nd Supervisor: Michiel Vos 
Associate Partner: Marine Conservation Society (

Closing date: 16.00 hrs BST on 17th January 2023
Click here for more information about CDT SuMMeR and how to apply

Project Description

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on Health (Goal 3), Water quality (Goal 6), and Life under water (Goal 14) are all relevant to the study of waterborne pathogens such as Vibrios and E. coli. Understanding the factors that determine the distribution, survival and growth of these pathogens is particularly important for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), which has the aim to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

In this PhD, you will undertake pioneering transdisciplinary research to explore waterborne pathogens in coastal waters, specifically in relation to the presence of seaweeds and seagrasses. You will use field and lab experiments to investigate the mechanisms driving positive or negative associations between pathogenic microbes and seaweeds and seagrasses and explore nature-based solutions to mitigate the problem of poor water quality. You will use-satellite-based tools to map pathogen risk in the presence and absence of seaweed and seagrass habitats.

Fig 1: (a) Conceptual figure of chemical defense of hosts (seaweeds and seagrasses) on pathogen abundance (e.g., Vibrio cholerae) in water column and the host itself (b) Environmental V. cholerae risk map

Aims and objectives (What research questions the project will address)

In this PhD you will address the following questions:  

  • What is the extent of association of pathogenic microbes with seaweeds and seagrasses and the surrounding water in Marine Protected Areas?
  • Can seaweeds and seagrasses be used as nature-based solutions to remove microbiological contamination and improve water quality?
  • How can we use the data obtained from research question 1 and 2 to develop risk-based satellite maps?


You will work with an interdisciplinary supervisory team, comprising marine chemical ecologists, microbiologists and remote-sensing scientists, alongside associate partners at the Marine Conservation Society and Environment Agency. This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic, and challenging transdisciplinary project. You will have access to excellent training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g., writing, communication, time management) and scientific practice (e.g., transdisciplinary working, experimental design, data management, computer programming, statistics).

Project Structure

The project will primarily be based at PML (Plymouth), with some time to be spend at University of Exeter, MCS and EA.  

The project will be supervised by Drs Mahasweta Saha (PML), Michiel Vos (UoExeter), Gemma Kulk (PML), Shubha Sathyendranath (PML), Laura Foster (Marine Conservation Society) and Jonathan Porter (Environment Agency).

Find out how to apply on the Plymouth University website