Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

PhD position in sustainable land management on the Dutch Coribbean to protect coral reefs, VU University Amsterdam

Application deadline: 15 March 2021

Dyou know that we can preserve healthy coral reefs through sustainable land use? Do you want to contribute to healthier coral reefs in the Dutch Caribbean by developing innovative co-design methods for sustainable land use options? Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Job description

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) recently awarded a grant to a new project called Land, Sea, and Society: Linking terrestrial pollutants and inputs to nearshore coral reef growth to identify novel conservation options for the Dutch Caribbean (SEALINK): The Program intends to provide a comprehensive understanding of ocean pollution and coral reef health in the Dutch Caribbean. A total of 9 PhD positions in varying scientific disciplines are available through this project including the one advertised here.

Water quality is among the key drivers of coral reef health. In coastal waters, the origin, abundance, and distribution of pollutants and other compounds can positively or negatively affect the survival of coral reef communities. These inputs are influenced by terrestrial processes, particularly human activities in the form of the use and management of the land. In this PhD position, the student will look into the trends in land use change in the coastal zone and how more sustainable land management can be achieved. This will be studied together with other PhD students in the project that focus on the flow of possible pollutants to the ocean and the impacts on the reef will be assessed.

The PhD student will use an innovative scenario approach combining field work in the Dutch Caribbean with advanced simulation models to (1) assess how uncertain developments like tourism and urbanization will impact the land-water system and, (2) co-design solutions (using optimization models and a participatory process with stakeholders) to navigate tradeoffs between environmental and development objectives within a context of feasibility and willingness. Methods will include the development of land use scenarios and activity models in collaboration with local stakeholders in the Dutch Caribbean to simulate potential future developments, while optimization models will serve to back-cast optimized land use and activity configurations accounting for the variability in the coastal system and the land-sea transport of pollutants, ensuring healthy marine ecosystems. This PhD position aims at transforming thinking among stakeholders and delivering a range of clear management options for sustainable coastal use under different, uncertain, future contexts.

Your duties

  • conduct interdisciplinary research in the SEALINK project and collaborate with project partners
  • publish research results in journal papers and a PhD dissertation
  • conduct fieldwork and interact with stakeholders
  • develop and apply simulation models


  • MSc degree in environmental sciences, geography or (landscape) ecology
  • willingness to collaborate in an interdisciplinary project using interdisciplinary methods
  • good writing skills
  • experience with quantitative methods and interest in using also more qualitative methods

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Sunday 28 February 2021