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Mapping the maritime movement of microplastics

It is a sorry sight to see plastic still being strewn around on our shores, but what is scary is the plastic that we are unable to see and that pose a danger to both marine life and human health.

  • In the Media
  • 08 Jun 2021

Highlighting this as part of World Oceans Day on 8th June this year, Channel News Asia interviewed SCELSE PI Assoc Prof Federico Lauro on his ongoing research about the impact of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems in the region.

A/Prof Lauro’s multinational study is the biggest regional model to identify the sources of plastic in the region’s ocean, and to map their journey through models of the ocean currents. Finding the hotspots of plastic makes for their easier elimination from the oceans. These plastics though could present themselves only at the micrometer level, essentially invisible to the naked eye and only able to be seen through a microscope, small yet possibly dangerous.

“We’re looking at ways in which plastic might become dangerous for marine life, both directly as a fact of leaching chemicals, but also [by acting as a] a little sponge that absorbs a lot of other toxic compounds and potentially small pathogens,” says A/Prof Lauro.

The journey of microplastics through the oceans and possibly through the multitude of marine life means they may well make their way to the human food chain in the food we eat. As such, the study is also looking into the fragmentation process of these plastics and how microbial life could be used to degrade plastic directly in the waters.

Although the study is still underway, worrying signs of our consumer habits with regards to plastics have already been picked up by A/Prof Lauro and the team. “You can pick up consumer changes directly by looking simply on the beaches. You start seeing for example, disposable masks, which can contain a considerable amount of plastics and of course, single-use containers for food takeout,” A/Prof Lauro notes. “In a way, COVID has amplified this effect because we’re taking away most of our food, we’re not able to eat on cutlery that’s just washed.”

We may not be able to divorce ourselves from plastic entirely at this point in our history, but countering the environmental issues of macro and microplastics could at least begin with each of us playing our part in tackling single-use plastic.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get rid of plastic as a material, the issue is with the single-use plastic and the fact that people do not worry about recycling it. That’s the biggest problem,” sums up A/Prof Lauro.

Media Coverage

Channel News Asia, 8 June 2021: Researcher Federico Lauro on marine plastic pollution in Asia [VIDEO]