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Improving the Health of Urbanised Estuaries


Degraded estuaries, such as those in close proximity to urbanization, have a limited capacity to process contaminants as they have lost animals key to improving sediment and water quality, such as oysters, clams and shrimps. This project aims to understand the potential for the re-introduction of these animals to accelerate the rehabilitation of contaminated urban estuaries and enhance biodiversity.


Dr Ana Bugnot, Professor Ross Coleman.

Research location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program type



Urbanised estuaries such as Sydney Harbour have significant sediment contamination, a legacy of its industrial history. It has also lost animals key to improving sediment and water quality, such as oysters, snails, shrimp, worms etc. Burrowing by invertebrates likely promotes microbial activities that can break down toxins. In addition, oyster reefs, which historically characterised estuaries on the South-East coast of Australia, play crucial roles in estuaries by filtering water, providing habitat for fish and invertebrates and protecting shoreline ecosystems. Nowadays, oyster reefs are mostly absent in the area due to human factors, including the harvesting of shells and live oysters since the 18th century. 

This project aims to kick start estuarine recovery by bringing back invertebrates to sediments and restoring oyster reefs. In a collaboration between The Sydney Harbour Research Program (SHRP) at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and The University of Sydney, we will understand how re-introducing these animals can accelerate the rehabilitation of contaminated urban estuaries and enhance biodiversity. The project is led by a multidisciplinary team including scientists from the University of New South Wales and Macquarie University. Students involved in this project will have the opportunity to collaborate outside academia with the department of Primary Industries of NSW, the NSW Office of Environmental and Heritage and NGOs.

Additional information

Suitable candidates will have a First-class Hons or equivalent and be competitive for RTP or international equivalent.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2487