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Displaying items by tag: Microplastics

The final meeting of JPI Oceans Joint Action on ‘Ecological Aspects of Microplastics’ was held in Galway on 14-15 September, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

During the two-day event hosted by the Marine Institute, research teams from the six funded JPI Oceans projects detailed their findings and summarised the impacts and outputs of the projects — including scientific publications, education materials, policy briefings for stakeholders and monitoring tools.

The combination of warming sea temperatures, ocean acidification and the accumulation of microplastics represents a substantial threat to marine life and ecosystems and, potentially, to human health.

Microfibres and microplastics are everywhere in the marine environment, with particles from car tyres and cigarette butts as being of particular concern, owing to their toxicity.

Over time, microplastic particles degrade and particles become smaller and are much more difficult to measure. Studies show that biofilms that form on these microplastic particles — termed the “plastisphere” — harbour viruses and microorganisms with unknown impacts on organisms that consume them.

Another study described how jellyfish species may serve as a good indicator of the level of microplastics pollution based on the accumulation of ingested plastic found in jellyfish samples, although further research is also needed to determine the long-term effects on jellyfish in terms of their growth and reproductive functioning.

Attendees at the recent final meeting of JPI Oceans Joint Action on ‘Ecological Aspects of Microplastics’, hosted by the Marine Institute in Galway on 14-15 SeptemberAttendees at the recent final meeting of JPI Oceans Joint Action on ‘Ecological Aspects of Microplastics’, hosted by the Marine Institute in Galway on 14-15 September

The meeting also provided an opportunity to connect the research outputs with key EU initiatives addressing plastic pollution.

In the first session of the meeting, John Hanus, the European Commission’s director general of innovation, and Luis Francisco Ruiz-Orejon of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre detailed the data gathered on marine litter and microplastics to date and the importance of the joint effort from research and monitoring teams across Europe continuing to ensure the ‘Good Environmental Status’ of our oceans.

Furthermore, potential cooperation opportunities between JPI Oceans-funded research partners and the European Commission were presented by highlighting the activities of the EU Mission ‘Restore our Ocean and Waters’ and a range of existing and forthcoming EU legislation to tackle the problem of marine litter.

Dr Niall McDonough, chair of JPI Oceans and director of policy, innovation and research services at the Marine Institute said: “This meeting was a great success. The researchers presented the results of almost a decade of work on the sources, spread and impacts of microplastic pollution in the marine environment.

“This issue has only come to the fore in the past 15 years and we are playing catch-up in terms of the science and the measures we can take to address the problem.

“The meeting also demonstrated the key role that JPI Oceans plays in bringing the best international experts together to conduct cutting-edge research that has a direct benefit to society. I congratulate the research teams on their outstanding work. But they also gave us a clear message that there is a lot more to do.”

Published in Marine Science

Citizen scientists from Westport Aquarium in Washington state, USA, and Galway Atlantaquaria have collaborated on a project to raise awareness about microplastics.

Named “SeaLegs”, the project involved monitoring local water sources for microplastic litter.

From early summer, this year, the trawl teams from Ireland and America were tasked to select a local water source and check for microplastics.

The SeaLegs devices were made from recycled and upcycled materials, and the trawls took place in areas including the Humptulips River and Grays Harbour in Washington state and Galway Bay.

"Kayakers and fishermen and many other water enthusiasts wondered why we were pulling a pair of baby leggings through the local waterways"

Garry Kendellen, of Galway Atlantaquaria said, “I loved meeting people during the trawls, the tights in the water were a great conversation starter, and I was able to talk about Clean Coasts volunteering and the problems of microplastics”.

Trawls took place in areas including the Humptulips River and Grays Harbour in Washington state and Galway Bay as part of "SeaLegs" microplastics monitoringTrawls took place in areas including the Humptulips River and Grays Harbour in Washington state and Galway Bay as part of "SeaLegs" microplastics monitoring

“The aquarium has been involved in many projects like this, but this one was really special and thought-provoking,” he said.

Six trials were conducted by the teams. It was agreed that even if the trawls were unsuccessful in their goal of capturing litter and microplastics, they would still be a conversation starter about litter, marine litter, water rights, social behaviour, litter collection/disposal, biodiversity, and citizen science.

Katherine Myrsell, director of Westport Aquarium, said: “Kayakers and fishermen and many other water enthusiasts wondered why we were pulling a pair of baby leggings through the local waterways.” 

“After deploying the SeaLegs, there was a lot of work to sort and sieve the samples.

After a day of collecting samples, we had to sift through the mass of organic matter and find microplastics,” she said.

“This was no easy feat as microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm (0.20 in) in length. The trawl teams had very limited quality microscopes, so it was a painstaking process to sort the samples,” she said.

“After much scanning and sifting, we were able to identify microplastics in almost every trawl. The fibres we discovered could not be confused with anything organic as they were blue, white, and red in colour,” she said.

The findings are in the SeaLegs Project Report

Summary Findings, including team details and a link to the  SeaLegs Plastic Survey are here

Videos from the project are here

Published in Marine Science
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The Joint Action ‘Ecological Aspects of Microplastics’ was launched as one of JPI Oceans’ pilot activities to study the sources, distribution and impact of microplastics in the marine environment.

Since 2014, 15 European countries and Brazil have committed €18.2 million for 10 pan-European research projects on the ecological aspects of microplastics in the marine environment under the framework of JPI Oceans.

Within the second call, six projects were selected for funding and started their work in 2020.

As we reach the end of the three-year term of the projects, the teams’ leading these endeavours will unveil their findings on 14 and 15 September at the Marine Institute in Rinville, Co Galway.

Dr Niall McDonough, chair of JPI Oceans and director of policy innovation and research support services at the Marine Institute said: “This forum provides an important opportunity for scientists, policymakers and research funders to discuss and learn from the research outcomes from these 10 marine microplastics projects.

“The assembly serves as a bridge to other European initiatives like the EU Mission: Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030 and the EU4Ocean Coalition for Ocean Literacy. We are hoping to agree on how to best communicate these results to decision-makers and stakeholders and to ensure tangible, lasting impact.”

A highlight of the meeting, in partnership with the Plastic Pirates go Europe! campaign, is a microplastics sampling exercise along the beautiful shores of Galway Bay, allowing hands-on participation among attendees.

Published in Marine Science

An Irish postgraduate’s novel solution to removing microplastics from water has landed him on the shortlist for a prestigious European prize.

Fionn Ferreira, a chemistry Master’s degree student and teaching assistant at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has created a way to remove microplastics from water using a unique mixture.

And the 22-year-old has been named as one of three finalists for the second edition of the Young Inventors Prize, which the European Patent Office (EPO) established to inspire the next generation of inventors.

The prize recognises young innovators aged 30 or under who have developed technological solutions to tackle global problems and help reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ferreira’s invention contributes to UN SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, as it supports the sustainable management of water resources, wastewater and ecosystems.

Ferreira’s method to remove microplastics from water is simple yet effective. His invention uses ferrofluid, a magnetic liquid mixture, which binds to microplastic particles, separating them from water and allowing for their removal using magnets.

The latest prototype, supported by Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition, removes over 85% of microplastics in a single pass and can be used safely in drinking water. The process does not require filters and produces zero waste. It retains nearly all the magnetic liquid while removing microplastics.

The collected microplastics can be outsourced for future recycling possibilities, making the process environmentally friendly. Ferreira is currently working with the University of Texas in scaling his invention to a commercial model.

‘The pursuit of a microplastic-free future is a noble and essential cause that demands our attention and action’

Hailing from a family of boat builders in Co Cork, Ferreira says was inspired to create his invention when he noticed the amount of plastic by the sea near his home.

“I was utterly horrified by the massive amount of plastic that has amassed on the shore,” he says. “The severity of the situation was overwhelming, and I felt an intense sense of urgency to comprehend the grave risks it poses.

“The fact that these plastics disintegrate into minuscule fragments, ultimately infiltrating our food chain and water, is having a devastating effect on our health. This is a stark reminder of the dire consequences of our actions.”

Ferreira founded Fionn & Co. LLC to perfect his invention, partnering with Stress Engineering Services to fine-tune, build and test his design. Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in chemistry, Ferreira teaches tutorials in Concepts of Chemistry and Engineering as a teaching assistant at the University of Groningen.

He is also developing several children’s television series and working on his first children’s book with hopes of inspiring and igniting young people’s interest in becoming inventors.

As Ferreira explains: “The pursuit of a microplastic-free future is a noble and essential cause that demands our attention and action. Everyone who commits to this cause is doing immeasurable good for our planet, and there is no limit to the good that can be achieved when we work together”.

The Young Inventors Prize winner will be announced at the European Inventor Award 2023 hybrid ceremony on Tuesday 4 July in Valencia, Spain which will be broadcast online (register HERE).

Published in Marine Science
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Preliminary results from the initial legs of the current edition of The Ocean Race show microplastics in each one of the 40 samples analysed so far, with as many as 1,884 microplastic particles per cubic metre of water in some locations.

Samples analysed from Leg 2 of the round-the-world sailing race, from Cabo Verde to Cape Town, found microplastic concentrations ranging from 92 to 1,884 particles pm3.

The samples of microplastics were of similar levels to the samples collected during Leg 3, the longest leg in the race’s 50-year history, a 12,750-nautical-mile journey through the Southern Ocean. Despite being one of the most remote parts of the planet, 160 to 1,492 particles pm3 were found in samples collected during this section of the race, between Cape Town in South Africa and Itajaí in Brazil.

Microplastics are being collected throughout the 60,000km race using an onboard sampling unit, a special filter system designed to collect plastic particles (between 0.03mm and 5mm), which is carried onboard by two teams: GUYOT environnement - Team Europe and Team Holcim - PRB.

The unit works by drawing water in and through a filter over a two-hour period to capture the microplastics. New samples are taken each day by the sailors and, after each leg, are provided to the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in the UK for analysis, with support from the University of Rhode Island, USA. NOC recently became a scientific collaborator of The Ocean Race, reflecting the two organisations dedication to using the race’s platform to accelerate ocean science.

GUYOT environnement - Team Europe and Team Holcim-PRB are each carrying a sampling unit, a special filter system designed to collect plastic particles from the ocean | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceGUYOT environnement - Team Europe and Team Holcim-PRB are each carrying a sampling unit, a special filter system designed to collect plastic particles from the ocean | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

Victoria Fulfer, visiting scientist from the University of Rhode Island at NOC, said: “It’s really concerning that we are finding microplastics in every sample, from coastal areas to the most remote regions of the ocean.

“Over half of our samples so far have more than 500 microplastic particles per cubic metre that are larger than 0.1 mm, and those concentrations only get higher when we look at even smaller particles.

“The problem has become pervasive, and sampling efforts like those captured during this race are vital to help us understand the extent of microplastic pollution in the ocean. The samples collected by teams in The Ocean Race are unique because they cover a large spatial range in a short amount of time, giving scientists a sort of ‘snapshot’ of the state of microplastic pollution in the global ocean for 2023.”

Measurements were highest closest to urban areas, such as around Cabo Verde and South Africa, and in known “garbage patch” areas where ocean circulation leads particles to accumulate.

Stefan Raimund, science lead for The Ocean Race said: “We are learning more and more about just how pervasive microplastics are in the ocean. They are found in species across the marine environment, from plankton to whales, and we are consuming them ourselves in seafood and even drinking water.

“Science is the most powerful weapon we have in fighting this issue. The data we gather can help inform and influence business and governments to make the decisions that can better protect our planet.

“We are making all of the data collected by teams during the race accessible to all, through our new interactive science tool. We’ll be adding more information throughout the race so that the science community, Race fans and anyone else who is interested can explore the data and learn more about the health of the ocean.”

For the first time in the round-the-world race, the chemical structure of the plastic particles is also being examined to help grow understanding about which plastic products are entering the ocean and breaking down into microplastics.

Microplastic collection filters in the laboratory | Credit: Southpoint FilmsMicroplastic collection filters in the laboratory | Credit: Southpoint Films

The most abundant chemical found so far is polyethylene, which is used in many products including single-use packaging, plastic bags and containers such as bottles.

The Ocean Race’s science initiative is part of the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme, which was created with premier partner 11th Hour Racing. All teams taking part in the competition are involved, carrying a range of equipment that collects data about the impact of human activity on the ocean. 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia carry an OceanPack to capture data about climate change and the ocean, while Biotherm are gathering information on ocean biodiversity.

The results from this edition of the race — which started in Alicante, Spain on 15 January 2023 and will finish in Genoa, Italy with the Grand Finale at the end of June — are significantly higher compared with the microplastic data captured during the last edition in 2017-18.

During the previous edition, samples ranged from 50-100 pm3 with levels thought to be up to 18 times higher this time around because of an increase in microplastic pollution and improvements in the analysis methods and technology. This edition is also analysing microplastic fibres — which are incredibly prevalent — while the 2017-18 edition didn’t test for them.

The Ocean Race is contributing scientific data to the Ocean Decade Odyssey project, which is an endorsed Project of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Develoment (2021-2030) supporting efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.

Published in Marine Science

The forthcoming edition of The Ocean Race, which sets sail from Alicante on 15 January, is set to feature the most ambitious and comprehensive science programme created by a sporting event.

Every boat participating in the gruelling six-month around-the-world race will carry specialist equipment onboard to measure a range of variables throughout the 60,000km route, which will be analysed by scientists from eight leading research organisations to further understanding about the state of the ocean.

Sailing through some of the most remote parts of the planet, seldom reached by scientific vessels, teams will have a unique opportunity to collect vital data where information is lacking on two of the biggest threats to the health of the seas: the impact of climate change and plastic pollution.

Launched during the 2017-18 edition of the race in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing — premier partner of The Ocean Race and founding partner of the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme — the innovative science programme will capture even more types of data in the forthcoming race, including for the first time levels of oxygen and trace elements in the water.

Data will also be delivered to science partners faster in this edition, transmitted via satellite and reaching the organisations, which includes World Meteorological Organisation, National Oceanography Centre, Max Planck Society, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in real time.

Stefan Raimund, science lead at The Ocean Race, said: “A healthy ocean isn’t just vital to the sport we love, it regulates the climate, provides food for billions of people and supplies half the planet’s oxygen. Its decline impacts the entire world. To halt it, we need to supply governments and organisations with scientific evidence and demand they act on it.

“We are in a unique position to contribute to this; data collected during our previous races has been included in crucial reports about the state of the planet that have informed and influenced decisions by governments. Knowing that we can make a difference in this way has inspired us to expand our science programme even further and collaborate with more of the world’s leading science organisations to support their vital research.”

The journey of the data captured in The Ocean Race science programmeThe journey of the data captured in The Ocean Race science programme

In total, 15 types of environmental data will be collected during The Ocean Race 2022-23, including:

  • Indicators of climate change: Two boats, 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia, will carry OceanPacks, which take water samples to measure levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen, salinity and temperature, providing insights about the impact of climate change on the ocean. Trace elements, including iron, zinc, copper and manganese, will also be captured for the first time. These elements are vital for the growth of plankton, an essential organism as it is the first part of the food chain and the ocean’s biggest producers of oxygen.
  • Plastic pollution: GUYOT environnement – Team Europe and Holcim – PRB will take regular water samples throughout the race to test for microplastics. As with the previous edition of the Race, the amount of microplastics will be measured throughout the route and, for the first time, samples will also be analysed to determine which plastic product the fragments originated from (for example, a bottle or carrier bag).
  • Meteorological data: The entire fleet will use onboard weather sensors to measure wind speed, wind direction and air temperature. Some teams will also deploy drifter buoys in the Southern Ocean to capture these measurements on an ongoing basis, along with location data, which helps to grow understanding about how currents and the climate are changing. Meteorological data will help to improve weather forecasts and are particularly valuable for predicting extreme weather events, as well as revealing insights on longer-term climate trends.
  • Ocean Biodiversity: Biotherm is collaborating with the Tara Ocean Foundation to trial an experimental research project to study ocean biodiversity during the Race. An onboard automated microscope will record images of marine phytoplankton on the ocean surface, which will be analysed to provide insights on phytoplankton diversity in the ocean, along with biodiversity, food webs and the carbon cycle.

All of the collected data is open-source and shared with The Ocean Race’s science partners: organisations across the world that are examining the impact of human activity on the ocean. It will feed into reports including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and databases such as the Surface Ocean Carbon Dioxide Atlas, which provides data for the Global Carbon Budget, a yearly assessment of carbon dioxide that informs targets and predictions for carbon reduction.

Véronique Garçon, senior scientist at CNRS said: “The Ocean Race’s science programme is vital for the science community and their work to support the UN Decade of Ocean Science. The data gathered by the boats from remote parts of the world, where information is scarce, is particularly valuable.

“Put simply, the more data we have, the more accurately we can understand the ocean’s capacity to cope with climate change and predict what will happen to the climate in future.”

The Ocean Race’s science programme, which is supported by 11th Hour Racing, Time to Act partner Ulysse Nardin and Official Plastic-Free Ocean partner Archwey, is being ramped up at a time when the impact of human activity on the ocean is becoming more widely understood.

Recent studies have highlighted how higher temperatures in the ocean are fuelling extreme weather events and sea levels are projected to rise at a faster rate than anticipated, while whales have been found to ingest millions of microplastics every day.

The types of data collected in The Ocean Race science programme

Published in Ocean Race

A leading Irish expert on microplastics has warned that the negative health effects may be more widespread, following publication of research linking microplastics with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

NUI Galway scientist Dr Liam Morrison said the research confirmed that the ubiquity of microplastics is a “serious societal challenge”.

The research paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology has found that people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have more microplastics in their faeces than those without the condition.

The scientists also found microplastics were more prevalent among participants in the study who drank more bottled water or ate more takeaway food.

IBD can cause persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and the chronic digestive disease is estimated to affect some five million people worldwide.

"Microplastics were more prevalent among participants who drank more bottled water or ate more takeaway food"

The study by scientists at Nanjing Medical University in China did not prove conclusively that microplastics cause IBD, and cautioned that more research was needed.

However, the authors of the paper said their study provided “evidence indicating that a positive correlation exists between the concentration of faecal microplastics and the severity of IBD”.

Some 52 samples were taken from people with IBD, and another 50 were taken from people who are healthy.

The participants in the study were asked to provide information on the food and drinks they consumed, their working and living conditions, demographic situation, and the status of their IBD among those with the condition.

“We conclude that the plastic packaging of drinking water and food and dust exposure are important sources of human exposure to microplastics,” the researchers said.

Dr Liam Morrison said “the ubiquity of plastics in every component of our environment is a serious societal challenge on a transboundary scale for the 21st century”.

“We only have to look around us to see all the materials made from plastics and single-use plastics that play a central role in our lives, from the clothes we wear to the everyday items we use in our homes and in the workplace,” he said.

“ Millions of plastic items of varying sizes, from nano to macro are discharged into our environment daily,” Morrison said.

“Initial research mainly focused on impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans. Plastic waste is geographically widespread from the ocean depths to the mountain tops and in many species including our own,” he continued.

“ We are aware that humans are consuming microplastics from the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. We know that contaminants and toxins can accumulate on the surface of microplastics and the potential impacts of this on humans remains poorly understood,” he said.

The global pandemic brought “new dimensions”, due to the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE), mostly made from plastics, to reduce the spread of infection, Morrison noted.

“On a global scale, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves are estimated to have been used every month during the Covid 19 pandemic. The disposable face mask market was estimated to have increased $800m in 2019 to $166bn in 2020,” Morrison said.

“There are of course huge societal benefits to plastics, but we have to really look at our usage of single-use plastics and waste management issues for a circular economy,” he said.

Published in Marine Science
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Lightweight microplastics can be trapped in freshwater sediment and stay longest at “headwaters” or sources of rivers and streams, a new study has found.

It can then take up to seven years for such pollutants to travel just a kilometre further towards the sea or ocean, a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago in North America calculates.

The research published in the journal Science Advances follows a similar study released last autumn by the University of Leicester.

As reported by Afloat, the University of Leicester research found microplastics may travel at less than 0.01km per hour.

The new research published this week notes that swirling river waters can trap lightweight microplastics that otherwise might be expected to float – depositing them in riverbeds.

“As rivers are in near-constant motion, researchers had previously assumed that lightweight microplastics were swept rather swiftly towards the ocean and rarely interacted with riverbed sediments,” the authors state.

They set out a new model describing processes that influence particles, including hyporheic exchange, involving widely abundant microplastics which are 100 micrometres in size and smaller.

The scientists used global data on urban wastewater discharges and river flow condition to discover that microplastic pollution resides the longest at the source of a river or stream - known as the ‘headwaters’ that are furthest away from the ocean.

In headwaters, microplastic particles move at an average rate of five hours per kilometre, but can then take up to seven years to move one kilometre under low-flow conditions.

Stefan Krause, professor of ecohydrology and biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham, noted that the slow movement of microplastics downstream” makes it more likely that aquatic species ingest microplastics and propagate them through the food-web.

This can "potentially cause harm for environmental and public health”, Krause said.

“Our findings highlight that we need to develop strategies to reduce future microplastic inputs into rivers, and find effective solutions to remove the existing legacy of plastics from our rivers in order to restore freshwater ecosystems,” he said.

The study was led by Dr Jennifer Drummond at the University of Birmingham, and supported by a Royal Society Newton International Fellowship, Marie Curie Individual Fellowship, the German Research Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the National Science Foundation.

The paper ‘Microplastic accumulation in riverbed sediment via hyporheic exchange from headwaters to mainstems’ by Jennifer D. Drummond, Uwe Schneidewind, Angang Li, Timothy J. Hoellein, Stefan Krause and Aaron I Packman is published in Science Advances.

Published in Marine Science
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New research from The Ocean Race Europe has found microplastics, and in particular microfibres, to be prevalent across the length and breadth of Europe.

All 36 water samples collected around the continent — including in the Baltic Sea, the English Channel, along the Atlantic coastline and in the Mediterranean Sea — were found to contain microfibres.

These tiny plastic fibres enter the environment from manufacturing, washing and wearing synthetic clothes. Fibres also originate from car tyres, ending up in the sea after heavy rain and run-off, as well as from ​​fragmented fishing gear and lines.

The data, which was captured by sailing teams competing in the first edition of The Ocean Race Europe, found that on average Europe’s seas contain 139 microplastic particles per cubic meter.

Most of these particles (83%) are microfibres, with the remaining being fragments from the degradation of larger plastic items such as plastic bottles, packaging and microbeads in toiletries. Three of the samples (two from the Channel and one from the Mediterranean Sea) contained microfibres exclusively.

Ambersail-2 in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceAmbersail-2 in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race measured microplastics in the last edition of the round-the-world race in 2017-18 in a pioneering move that combined racing and science. This summer, the race teamed up with scientific bodies GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Utrecht University to discover more about the source of the microplastics by analysing whether they are fibres or fragments.

Dr Aaron Beck, senior scientist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, who coordinated the analysis of the microplastic samples, said: “The data clearly show that microplastics are pervasive in the ocean and that, surprisingly, the major component of these microplastics are microfibres.

“Previous research has typically focused on detecting fragments, rather than fibres, so this new data is significant and highlights the value of collaborations with partners like The Ocean Race that help us better define the make-up and distribution of microplastics in the surface of the ocean.”

The Ocean Race says its data is contributing to the development of a map of plastic in the ocean and helping inform understanding of how microplastics transfer into marine ecosystems. Microfibres are the type of microplastic that are most frequently eaten by marine species and therefore of concern for ocean biodiversity.

The Ocean Race Europe took place in May and June 2021, starting in Lorient in North West France and finishing in Genova, Italy.

Data was collected over a six-week period in May and June 2021 during The Ocean Race Europe and its prologue. Two teams, Ambersail-2 and AkzoNobel Ocean Racing, carried scientific equipment onboard to capture samples of microplastics as they raced, while a third boat, 11th Hour Racing Team, took measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2), sea temperature, PH levels and salinity, which are key indicators of climate change.

AkzoNobel Ocean Racing in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceAkzoNobel Ocean Racing in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

The data gathered in the race showed the Baltic Sea to have the highest levels of microplastics in Europe, with 230 particles found per cubic metre, on average double the amount found in the Mediterranean (112 particles per cubic metre) which is considered a hotspot for plastic pollution.

Dr Beck said: “The high abundance of microplastic in the Baltic Sea compared to the Mediterranean Sea is unexpected. Factors such as the time of year that the data is collected can have an impact on the distribution of microplastics. The more data we can gather, from different areas and seasons, the better we can understand the source of the plastics and where they end up.”

The ocean plays a critically important role in climate regulation. It has absorbed over 90% of man-made excess heat since the 1970s and absorbs a quarter of human made carbon CO2, helping to effectively mitigate climate change. However, this absorption causes the ocean to become more acidic, which has an adverse effect on marine life.

Measurements of dissolved CO2 captured during The Ocean Race Europe by 11th Hour Racing Team have been submitted to the Surface Ocean Carbon Dioxide Atlas (SOCAT), which provides data for the Global Carbon Budget, a yearly assessment of CO2 that informs targets and predictions for carbon reduction.

It is vital that scientists understand the levels of CO2 in the ocean to form an accurate budget and keep the world on track to stay within the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The CO2 data were also analysed by EuroSea, a European Commission-funded programme that improves the ocean observing and forecasting systems. Carbon dioxide levels were found to be highest in the Mediterranean, as a consequence of warm temperatures and very little wind.

11th Hour Racing Team in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing/The Ocean Race11th Hour Racing Team in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing/The Ocean Race

Simon Weppe, science lead at The Ocean Race said: “Climate change and plastic pollution have, in mere decades, caused a drastic decline in the health of the ocean. Through The Ocean Race’s unique collaboration between sailors and ocean research organisations, we are helping to grow understanding of these dire issues.

“The more we know of the scale of these problems the better placed we are to take action to combat them; this is crucial, as the state of the seas and the fate of the planet are completely interlinked.

"It's vital that governments act on the scientific evidence to protect and restore our ocean and all that depends on it. The race for the ocean is a race we must win.”

The Ocean Race Europe scientific data collection activity was endorsed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a global movement to unlock the knowledge needed to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.

The Ocean Race’s innovative science programme has been developed in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing, premier partner of The Ocean Race and founding partner of the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme.

The Ocean Race Europe Science Report can be viewed HERE.

Published in Ocean Race

Next Tuesday 13 April the Cork Nature Network hosts a free talk in the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, and specifically on the largest fish in the sea.

During this talk, Dr Alina Wieczorek will be presenting her research — being conducted both in Ireland and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean — on microplastic interactions with whale sharks and basking sharks.

She will also share some first insights into how researchers can use scientific findings to inform society and stakeholders to collaboratively find solutions to address environmental issues such as plastic pollution.

Online attendance for ‘Microplastics a Macro-Disaster: A threat to the largest fish of our seas?’ at 7pm next Tuesday 13 April is free, and registration is open now at Eventbrite.

Published in Sharks
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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