CB-18: Plastic pollution: Sampling, presence & impacts

Mentor: Coleen Suckling, University of Rhode Island

Project Location

University of Rhode Island-Bay Campus

Project Description

Dr. Coleen Suckling – Image courtesy University of Rhode Island

Our oceans contain plastics and marine organisms have been shown to ingest them. Despite some species being able to egest small sized plastics (i.e. microplastics), they may cause physical damage as they travel through the digestive tract. Persistent organic pollutants and harmful bacteria (e.g. Vibrio) have been found to aggregate onto the surfaces of plastics, posing additional health risks for marine organisms. Most studies that determine how marine organisms respond to microplastic exposure and ingestion are based on unrealistically high plastic concentrations and not representative of concentrations found within the marine environment. This project presents an excellent opportunity for students to work towards our understanding of how environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics impact marine organisms within Narragansett Bay, further enhancing our knowledge of how anthropogenic pressures impact the coastal ecosystems of Rhode Island.

Students will focus on one or more of the following approaches depending on the project priorities during the Fellowship: 1) Assisting in field collections of microplastics and organisms; 2) Applying a range of extractive techniques in the laboratory; 3) Developing an archive of digital imagery with the aim to characterize and quantification of microplastics; 4) Identification of polymers using state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques; 5) Conducting aquarium pilot trials and experiments assessing the responses of marine invertebrates to microplastics.

This is an exciting opportunity to gain hands on experience on topics important to RI C-AIM, using C-AIM facilities, to become familiarized with complex research issues and research tools. The student will work within the RI C-AIM’s project community and their active projects which fall into several of their foci which include: i) Assessing biological and ecosystem impacts; ii) predicting ecosystem response through integration, and iii) visualization and imaging.