Calibration complete, we steamed towards Scotland and headed for the Minch to start our transects. The weather is fine and the seas are calm, long may it continue.
One of the sample sets that are to be collected on this cruise is that of microplastics. With an ever increasing consumption and dependency of products that are plastic based, there is a worry that the levels of plastics in the world’s seas and oceans is on the rise. Improper disposal and plain laziness ensures that there is a rising amount of plastics making their way into our waterways. Take the cosmetics industry as an example. Many products designed and manufactured for the sole purpose of washing your face or body are now marketed with the inclusion of ‘micro beads’ or similar in their advertising strategy. The premise of the product and these ‘micro beads’ is that they are active in being an exfoliating force, allowing the promoting company to proclaim that their product will give your skin a deep cleanse.
Maybe they are right. But some of these ‘micro beads’ are comprised of plastic and being the material that it is, plastic takes a long time to break down. When the cleansing product is washed from your skin the residue and accompanying ‘micro beads’ are washed away with them. These tiny pieces of plastic make their way into our water systems. There are many other ways that plastics find their way into our waterways but the above example is a good one. Plastic in our seas has a detrimental effect in any form. Microplastics are easily ingested by fish and other aquatic creatures and over time will accumulate within their digestive tracts. This is not only unhealthy for these creatures but for anything that preys on them; bigger fish, marine mammals, humans…..
The samples collected on this voyage for microplastic analysis are collected when the RV Celtic Explorer is in motion and involves continuously filtering seawater for a set period of time and analysing the retained material for evidence of microplastics back in the laboratory after the ship docks.
The information gleaned from this sampling and the subsequent laboratory analysis can be used to try to ascertain what levels of plastics are already in our waters and, over time, will allow us to build up a picture of where the problem is particularly bad. It may also allow us to use scientific evidence in a bid to try and reduce how harmful plastics are making their way into the sea and raise a general awareness of where things end up when we discard them. With real data to show that there is appreciable levels of microplastics in our waters we will also be able to start to investigate the effects the presence of such a pollutant will have on the aquatic environment and the food webs present within.
Food for thought that definitely makes it worth considering what products you buy, what they contain and where they end up after you have finished using them. If you would like to find out more about microplastics, their presence in our waters and the potential consequences of this, please take some time to have a look at www.plastictides.wordpress.com.
The voyage presses on and with the transects now started and the acoustic watches underway, it must only be a matter of time before we find herring!