The impacts of land-based nutrient pollution and sediment on coastal ecosystems in a Caribbean Bay


The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.

We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

Various support and guidance on applying for an ACCE DTP studentship, including how to apply; what we’re looking for (including our assessment rubric); details of financial support, training, and placement opportunities available; and details of our recruitment process, can be found at, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview

In tropical coastal ecosystems, mangrove and seagrass ecosystems sieve nutrients and sediment from land, protecting fragile coral reefs. Increasing anthropogenic land-based sources of nutrients and sediments can overwhelm this natural sieve, allowing excessive nutrients and sediments to impact coastal water quality and ecosystem health. Maintaining the health of tropical coastal ecosystems is vital as they are important global blue carbon stores and provide ecosystem services critical for human populations in the local area.

In this project you will examine the effectiveness of seagrass beds in moderating the nutrient and sediment discharge from rivers with different characteristics such as those that are urbanised, peat-rich, or clean mountain rivers. The study site, Almirante Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama is a biodiverse estuary impacted by anthropogenic nutrient inputs from land, which is the likely driver of local annual hypoxia.

You will evaluate 1) seagrass community health (e.g., stem and shoot density, species composition, growth rates), 2) characterise the water-quality (e.g. YSI multiparameter Sonde, seawater isotopes) and sediment record (e.g., 50 cm sediment cores, geochemical analysis- diatom composition and XRF/heavy metal analysis), and 3) assess impacts of environmental change on coastal ecosystem dynamics.

You would be based at the University of Liverpool, with periodic visits to our partner UKCEH. Fieldwork will be at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Essential and Desirable Criteria

The successful candidate will benefit from supervision and training that has enabled previous students to develop skills leading to publication in high quality journals, and successful conservation and academic careers.


  • Land-ocean interactions knowledge or field research
  • Biogeochemical assessment of water or sediment
  • Statistical techniques to analyse project data


  • Experience carrying out tropical ecology and/or physical geography fieldwork
  • Experience analysing water and sediment samples for nutrients, physical/chemical characteristics, particle size analysis, XRF, etc
  • Numerical/scripting skills (e.g. R)


How to Apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-Time Study Options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE Status

This project is a CASE project. Your project will be co-supervised by the non-academic partner organisation, and you will spend 3-6 months on a placement with your CASE partner in their workplace. You will experience training, facilities and expertise not available in an academic setting, and will build business and research collaborations. Your CASE partner will also contribute an additional £1000 per year to your Research and Training Support Grant.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



1.Clark K.E., Bravo V.D., Giddings S.N., Davis K.A., Pawlak G., Torres M.A., Adelson A.E., César-Ávila C.I., Boza X. and Collin R. (2022) Land Use and Land Cover Shape River Water Quality at a Continental Caribbean Land-Ocean Interface. Front. Water 4:737920. (Adelson is a postgraduate author)
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