Have you ever wondered what happens to those plastic bottles and bags you see on the side of the road while you’re driving? Or have you asked yourself how these items can possibly harm a sea turtle or a fish? This summer in the lab, I am researching these questions and more. My name is Katie Veasey, I am a rising junior at Hamilton College majoring in Environmental Studies, and I became interested in the plastic pollution epidemic at a young age, by participating in COA's Beach Sweeps. As COA’s Marine Science Intern, I will be applying my knowledge of environmental science and chemistry to help determine how much plastic is out there that we are not seeing and the detrimental impacts it has on our marine environment.
Once we discard our plastic, we don't think twice about it. Unfortunately, it never really goes away - whether it's in a landfill, the ocean, or in the stomach of a whale, plastic does not biodegrade. Rather, it photodegrades when it is in the environment. When the plastic is exposed to the sun's rays and is agitated from water movement, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that fish and other marine animals can collect and then consume. Other than being harmful to marine life by being confused as food, plastics carry high concentrations of toxic chemicals called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (Frias et al. 2010). These include PCBs, DDTs, and flame retardants- in other words, not anything you want in your food.
Clean Ocean Action has launched a research initiative to quantify the presence and abundance of these plastics at our beaches along the Jersey Shore. From Sandy Hook to Cape May, we are analyzing sand and water samples, looking for microplastics polluting these ecologically important areas. Further steps in the study include assessing visible microplastics along the coast and documenting microplastics in New Jersey’s low-trophic level coastal fishes, while promoting citizen action. As COA's Marine Science Intern, I am working on analyzing the samples that have already been processed and helping to process the remaining sand samples. I will be working with the Principal Investigators of this study, Catie Tobin of Clean Ocean Action, Beth Sharack of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) seniors Bobby McLaughlin and Nicolette Runko throughout the summer.
Follow my blog series throughout the summer for updates from the lab as we discover these microplastics!
Click here for the full overview of our research project: http://cleanoceanaction.org/index.php?id=824