What do dolphins have for dinner? The science of plastic pollution.

April 4, 2014

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the plastic we use in our day to day lives after we throw it away? Recently scientists have started to realise quite how much of it is getting into our seas and oceans.

 

Thanks to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation all of the teams in the Great Pacific Race will be collecting a few samples of Pacific Ocean water so that researcher in the Marine Environment Research Institute, Maine (USA) can test how much plastic has made it's way into the ocean. 

 

I wanted to know more about plastic pollution so I got in touch with PhD research student Amy Lusher, who is working on the subject at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. 

 

What do dolphins have for dinner? The science of plastic pollution.

 

Name: Amy Lusher

 

University/institution: Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

 

What did you study at school/what were your favourite subjects?

A levels at college (leaving cert level). I studied biological, chemistry, history and sport.

At high school my favourite subjects were biology, sports and geography, although I wasn’t very good at biology.

 

Where did you do your undergraduate degree and what was it in?

At Plymouth University (UK)

I studied BSc Marine Biology, and then I completed a joint MRes between Plymouth University and the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

 

What is your favourite thing about being a scientist?

Trying to find answers to questions, and understand what is going on in the world (or in my case) the ocean around us.

 

What do you do when you're not busy researching?

Swimming, diving, I used to represent Plymouth University in Surf Lifesaving. I love travelling, one of my favourite places is Inis Meain, it's not very far from Galway but it’s so different.

 

What are you researching?            Marine plastic pollution

 

I am carrying out a broad scale study of the distribution and abundance of microplastics in the Irish marine environment. Studying the seawater, sediment and biota [animal and plant life] to look at the different scales of microplastic pollution, and its fate in the marine environment.

 

We are collecting data using the R.V. Celtic Explorer and Celtic Voyager [Irish research ships], water sampling methods include underway sampling, manta net sampling, grab sampling, box coring.

 

We are also collecting fish from by catch surveys and carrying out investigations of cetaceans [whales and dolphins] from stranding events.

 

Most of my work is carried out at GMIT, although a large majority of my time is spent at sea collecting samples.

 

We are hoping to understand the level of microplastic pollution in the Irish marine environment and the effect it is having on marine biota. If we can map the distribution and abundance of microplastics, we will have a better idea of the sources and sinks of pollution and can start thinking about how to mitigate the effects or reduce the further input of marine pollution to the marine environment.

 

What's the weirdest or most interesting thing you look at in your research?

The inside of a dolphin stomach is really interesting to look at, it’s strange that it is very similar to ours but is made up of four compartments.

 

What kind of discoveries have you made?

Research paper on plastic pollution in the stomachs of fish from the English Channel. (click to read)

This is my first published paper, it was from my undergraduate work, I studied the levels of microplastic ingestion by marine fish which were caught as by catch in the English Channel. I found that 35% of fish ingested plastic. We don’t know what effect the plastic had on the fish, so further work is needed to understand the effects of plastic ingestion.

 

Where can we learn more?

We have a blog that myself and another PhD student, Heidi Acampora use. We update it weekly if we can. Visit Amy's blog Plastic Tides here and try her plastic free challenge. 

 

If you would like to get in touch with Amy visit the blog or find her on LinkedIn.

 

Can you recomed a Facebook page with interesting stuff about seas and oceans?

 One World One Ocean

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