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Who, What, Where
What: An investigation of marine macro and micro plastic pollution. Gathered data will inform actionable practice in the Extended Producer Responsibility field, generate insights into how consumer experience shapes perceptions of an issue, and a documentary on the mutable perception of plastics as versatile material and pollutant.
The project aims to prevent further pollution of the oceans by understanding why such pollution occurs and providing recommendations to motivated industries and consumers that address the issue.
Our data will also contribute to two other research projects on determining sources of micro and macro-plastic pollution.
Where: The Southern to Northern Atlantic. Cape Town to the Azores Islands via Ascension and St. Helena. We will travel over 6000 miles from May 15th to July 6th aboard the Bark Europa.
Who: Lise Alkema, a social scientist focussing on the human – environment interface, and Jeremy Sterling, a natural scientist with a background in marine sciences and shipboard experience
1. Natural Sciences Research
i) ‘Macro’ plastic sampling
We will collect and/or categorise plastic at sea by sight and by using hook or nets where possible.
On beaches, we will use the OSPAR Guidelines for Monitoring Marine Litter on Beaches. By discerning the types of plastic found, in what ratios, and from what sources we draw inferences as to the behaviour that led to the dumping of such plastic. Similar research has already been conducted in the Arctic by the Wageningen Economic Research group and we will collaborate to further practical insights on this avenue. For example nets, make up approximately a third of marine plastics by weight. Finding clues as to why a net was dumped and where it came from will contribute to efforts to design measures to prevent further pollution.
Our focus will then be specifically on discarded ‘ghost’ fishing nets and bottle caps. We also hope to look for plastics in the intestines of fish that may be caught for food.
ii) Microplastic Sampling
We will collect microplastics using a Manta Trawl, towed behind the ship for short durations. The trawluses a thin mesh net to filter tiny plastics from the ocean. Microplastic samples are then contained and frozen for onshore analysis.
La Daana Kanhai (MARES PhD Candidate at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Ireland/Plymouth University, UK), has offered her assistance in identifying and classifying collected samples when they can be collected from Europa.
Research in this area is interesting to us as it will contribute to the current debate around to what extent microplastics are a threat to marine ecological and human health.
Though our survey will be too small scale to test that claim, we have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to ongoing research. Additionally, the perception of the health impacts of microplastics are as important in the policy arena as the actual threat itself, and so this sampling creates an important input into the social science side of our project.
2. Social Sciences Research
Our presence on the ship creates a different experience for the crew and passengers. ‘Action research’ creates a situation and then studies the outcomes of that situation. We actively bring the subject of plastic on board by 1) encouraging passengers to be involved in the sampling and analysis and 2) organising information and discussion sessions about plastic in the oceans.
If our sampling material is suitable for further analysis, a master thesis research will be conducted selecting a category of sampled material and linking it to its production/consumption system. A selected industry will be analysed and patterns of production/consumption/pollution will be researched. Where can we find root causes of the final pollution? And how can we intervene so as to prevent said causes? The thesis project will illuminate new insights into who is responsible for pollution, a topic often neglected due to its difficulty. It will show plastic’s journey through industries and/or society, ultimately becoming pollution, and will link this journey to proposing improved producer/consumer responsibility policies.
The project also functions as a pilot study for improving interdisciplinary cooperation between different research groups (explicitly, the biobased research group, marine policy group and the economic research group).
A second focus of our research will investigate people’s awareness of their influence on plastic pollution. This will require a social study on human perception and the effect of direct engagement with an issue, with the aim of improving providing actionable recommendations to industry and researchers alike. Research in this area is interesting to us as, first, it will make the neglected link between actual physical data collection (natural science) and social science. Second, as plastic pollution is a product of human behaviour, studying human behaviour is essential to find solutions to combat pollution.
Funds permitting, we will make a short documentary (+/- 8 min) while onboard. We would like to film the research (sampling, interviews) and human perception/interaction about and with plastics, from the perspective of plastics. We will explore the journey of plastics that were initially created as a sustainable ‘wonder material’, but are transformed by mismanagement into a pollutant.
Why do we need funding?
We aim to raise 3500 GBP, 4000 EUR to cover four areas we need funding for:
i) The costs of travelling onboard, and transportation to and from the ship
ii)Buying, renting or building our gear, and shipping it to and from the Europa
iii) Manta Trawls
v) Shipping our samples from the Europa, and paying any costs associated with their analysis
vi) Paying for a camera capable of acquiring high quality film, a gopro, and high quality video editing of our documentary.
You’ll be funding a rare opportunity to actively engage a diverse array of people with a serious issue that is usually far removed and intangible. We believe that doing so will yield practical, solid insights that have been unavailable to other researchers operating at a removal from either their data, or their audience. Our voyage has the potential to inspire new ways of thinking about how we design anti-pollution measures, how we conduct the research to inform thee measures, and how we communicate this information.
Who Are We?
We are Lise Alkema (Dutch) and Jeremy Sterling (Irish), two master students from Wageningen University. Lise does a masters in Environmental Sciences, Jeremy in Climate Science. Our backgrounds are very different: respectively in sociology (social science) and in Oceanography (natural science). Although coming from different backgrounds we are both doing a master track in Sustainable Development Diplomacy and are as such extremely motivated to find ways to guide society into a more (environmentally) sustainable future.
Additional Information on budget & use of donations
Our research gear:
Shipping the manta trawl – 700 euros
Buying manta net – 350-650 euros
Buying reserve nets – 150 euros
Buying camera equipment – 500-1000 euros
Stay on the ship – 2500 euros. Lise’s journey is funded by the bark EUROPA. Jeremy’s cannot be funded and as such we hope to be able to fund part of this cost of 2500 euros
Where will your donations go to?
Donations will be going to (order of priority – so donations will first go to shipping costs, then to buying manta nets, then to buying reserve sets of nets etc)
- 700 euros shipping costs manta trawl
- 350 – 650 euros buying costs manta net
- 150 euros buying custom reserve sets of nets
- 100 euros buying equipment for 2nd manta set
- 500 euros buying camera suitable for high quality filming and photos
- 1500 euros for paying our stay on board of the ship
Any additional donations (above our target) will go to funding the remaining costs of our stay on board and flight tickets
- Remaining costs: 1000 euros
- Flight costs: 1200 euros
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Bark Europa image credits: Jordi Plana Morales; Sarah Gerats, Arthur Smeets