We know now that microplastics from cosmetics escaping into our rivers and estuaries is an issue. Hopefully recent UK legislation will reduce inputs over time. However, do we really know how much is entering the waterways and therefore how much of an impact it will have.
The Thames Manta Project, set up by Living River Foundation is attempting to understand how prevalent cosmetic microplastics (microbeads) are in two estuaries in South East England, the Medway and the Thames.
In 2017 Tanya Ferry, one of the founders of Living River Foundation joined Expedition sailing around Britain for two of their three legs, featured in Sky Ocean Rescues’ Plastic Voyage. Of all the sampling that was possible, due to the British weather, Tanya was shocked to see the highest number of microplastics was found in the Thames. The laboratories haven’t finished the final analysis of the samples collected but even by sight, on the sailing vessel ‘Sea Dragon’ at the time, the volunteer crew could see the very significant difference in the samples.
So upon her return, Tanya got cracking into a local project to establish if the 2017 sample was disturbingly normal on the Thames, whether the Medway estuary was the same and if the UK ban on production and sale of wash off cosmetics with microplastics will make a big difference. Being based on the Medway, this was an opportunity to also compare both estuaries.
Setting up the project
Tanya and Richard have converted the workboat ‘Snapper’ and commissioned a trawl and nets in order to get the project off the ground. We even found microplastics when trialling the set up in the marina where the vessel is kept!!
Since these early beginnings we have been blown away by support from local and expert volunteers who are willing to give up their weekends to help us sample on both the Medway and Thames. In addition PhD student Nina Faure Beaulieu, who is researching microplastics in UK waterways and interactions with living organisms, has agreed to help analyse our samples throughout 2018. Nina will be looking at composition of plastic, number of particles and volume in the water. These results will be feed back to the volunteer and the project.
In engaging the locals as volunteers along side experts, into the story of what is happening to their local estuary we hope that they will expand their understanding of the issues, and how to better look after them in future. If they can help tell the story of water quality to those who can influence local policies, or take direct action to protect the habitat and health of the estuaries in the future, there is a better chance for the environment to support the community.
- To monitor and quantify the temporal and spatial changes of microbeads in two South Eastern UK estuaries.
- To quantify any correlation with weather or flows into the estuaries to the volume of microbeads.
- Engaging with non scientists and locals to the problem and expand their appreciation of the estuary.
Who are we?
Tanya Ferry is an aquatic ecologist who has worked on the tidal Thames in a number of roles, over the last 12 years and seen the issues developing, including as a fisheries officer for the Environment Agency. I am curious as to how to connect the community with the estuaries and the seas locally to drive protection on a local level rather than waiting for national policy. To establish what is actually going on in the Thames and Medway will be so helpful to know where the issues might need policy changes.
Richard Bain has been a Thames Waterman since 2001 and comes from a rich, local, family history of mariners on the Thames, Medway and even the high seas! I now run a company providing vessels for passengers called Jetstream Tours over the Thames and Medway and I am keen to find out what happens in the local estuaries. Our vessels have even become plastic free!!
What will we do with funding raised?
So far the funding has been at Tanya and Richard’s own personal expense to set up the charity and provide all the equipment for the project. However in order to maximise the sampling potential, continuing costs are beyond the current reach of both the charity and founders. There are additional on going costs like mooring fees, fuels and sampling jars that we need support with. It is also hoped that there should be a second years sampling to help the unfortunate gap in 2018’s sampling as a result of family tragedy and to develop a better analysis.
Currently we have only one complete trawl. Given the environment there is a real chance of losing the net and trawl, should we snag on a larger but submerged items than we intend. To have the resilience not to loose a whole survey, perhaps only a few sites instead. A replacement (spare hopefully!) net will cost us £3000.
Our 2018 Plans
- 15 dates are currently planned on the Thames and Medway.
- 4 weekends in Thames where mooring is required costing £320, and extra fuel to get the vessel onto site costing £240.
Our 2019 Plans
- 30 dates would achieve what we had planned originally planned for 2018.
- Potentially that means 8 weekends on the Thames costing £640. Extra fuel reaching costs of £480.
- Jars for the samples are always required, these cost around £60 for about six months sampling.
If we raise enough to complete the work in 2018 and 2019 we would be so grateful!! Spare equipment is always useful, sieves are essential costing £120. Our starting goal is £1000 but anything about this will go towards the costs outlined above.
Volunteer with us!
If you would like to get involved, we are always welcoming volunteers to get involved. We provide the training and PPE, you just need to turn up and get involved. Sea legs do help, but aren’t essential. All 2018 dates for surveys and training are currently on the website www.living-river.org/thames-manta, but can change due to weather. If interested please filling the volunteering form and let us know when you’d like to join us!
Thank you for your support!