Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences

First Advisor

Austin Fox

Second Advisor

Kelli Hunsucker

Third Advisor

Glenn Miller

Fourth Advisor

Richard B. Aronson


Eutrophication impacts coastal ecosystems globally and triggers phytoplankton and algal blooms, leading to an increase in oxygen demand in the water column and sediments due to various biogeochemical processes. Naturally, biological nitrification, denitrification and anammox processes help to remove nitrogen predominately by nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria in the sediments. Eutrophic systems have increased nutrient and organic matter loading and are prone to the accumulation of ‘muddy’, fine-grained, organic-rich sediments (locally termed ‘muck’) that may not be able to support high enough populations of these bacteria, and therefore, may not adequately support nitrification/denitrification processes that would otherwise remove nitrogen. To decrease nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in brackish water and dredge material from the Indian River Lagoon, treatment bioreactors promoting biological nutrient removal processes were developed, in which different media (bioballs, biochar, sand, zeolite, perlite and corn maize) and environmental conditions (carbon sources – methanol, acetic acid and sugar; aerobic and anaerobic conditions) were tested. In contrast to results from many existing systems, accumulation of nitrate was not observed in any of the treatments during this study with no added benefit observed through the addition of anaerobic treatment (TDN: p = 0.66; TDP: p = 0.39) where anaerobic microenvironments within biofilms facilitated treatment in a single reactor cell. Following the success of plastic bioballs and a desire to find an eco-friendlier and more cost-effective alternative for potential use in a large system, repurposed plastic bottle caps were tested and added to the study. Overall, there was no significant difference in treatment efficiencies between systems using bioballs versus plastic bottle caps (TDN: p= 0.10; TDP: p = 0.43). Using methanol, sugar and acetic acid as supplemental carbon sources each significantly decreased nitrogen concentration and there was no significant difference in removal efficiencies among carbon sources with respect to nitrogen all removing ~50% or more of the TDN. Although there was no significant difference in nitrogen removal efficiencies using methanol versus acetic acid; methanol had a significantly higher decrease in TDP and PO4 concentrations, relative to acetic acid (p = 0.02, p = 0.01). Data presented here suggest that in addition to denitrifiers, phosphorus-accumulating bacteria (PAO) were likely present leading to significant phosphorus removal from the system. While monitoring for any release of microplastics from the system, the opposite was observed and although unexpected, the treatment systems significantly removed microplastics while also decreasing turbidity (p = 0.007, p = 0.002). There have been relatively few studies on treatment systems developed to specifically treat natural waters with a range of salinities; however, results this study suggest that biological nutrient removal processes like nitrification, denitrification and anammox can be simultaneously promoted in single-celled bioreactors maintained under strategized conditions. These results have the potential to aid in the restoration of the lagoon and other coastal systems by providing a lower-cost treatment system developed for use in brackish waters.

Available for download on Monday, December 18, 2023

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