Scientists working to map the impact of plastic pollution on critical marine environment

men at sea
men at sea

Scientists from the East African coast to the south coast of England are working together to map the impact of plastic pollution on a critical marine environment in a remote part of the Western Indian Ocean.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania will use specialist microscopes to analyse water samples taken off the coast of Lamu Archipelago in Kenya, to discover the quantity, size and type of microplastics that are floating in the sea.

Their findings will help scientists and the local community further understand the impact plastic litter has both on land and in the sea around these highly sensitive marine locations.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, Deputy Director of Revolution Plastics at the University of Portsmouth, travelled to Lamu whilst the data was being collected. She said: “Only by assessing the full extent of marine plastics on this delicate environment can we hope to support local communities to find solutions to manage this plastic waste.”

Dr Bowyer is an expert in working with communities using creative methods. She involves individuals, communities and societies in research and initiatives that help to deliver results that are relevant and sustainable. These methods will be used in Lamu to help in the fight against plastic pollution.

The detailed analysis will take place between May and July, helping to support the much larger Flipflopi project – an East African movement with a mission to end single use plastic and inspire a plastic-reuse revolution.

The organisation created the world’s first sailing dhow made entirely from discarded plastic, and named it Flipflopi. It has partnered with the University of Portsmouth and other members of the international scientific community to map the impact of plastic marine litter in the Lamu Archipelago of the Western Indian Ocean.

Sailors on the Flipflopi collected the samples during a two-week expedition in February. The expedition partners, including the University of Portsmouth, CORDIO EA, and Watamu Marine Association also assessed the quantities of macroplastics in the Lamu region. Once analysed, the data will be used to map the extent of macroplastics, microplastics and microfibres in the ocean, as well as the beaches and mangrove forests that make up around 300 kilometres of the Kenyan coastline.

Dr Fay Couceiro’s, University of Portsmouth’s Microplastics Research Group will be carrying out the analysis. Dr Couceiro said: “It’s exciting to be starting the analysis of sea water that has come all the way from Lamu – right here in Portsmouth.

“Microplastics are a growing problem all over the world and this analysis will help create a picture of what is happening in the water around Lamu – where we know there is a plastic pollution crisis on the land. These results will be combined with the land and sea macroplastic data helping us to establish flows of plastic from land into the sea, and then we can work together to find solutions.”

The results are expected at the end of July.

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