CB-13: Plastic pollution – Sampling, presence & impacts

Mentor: Coleen Suckling (University of Rhode Island)

Project Location

University of Rhode Island – Kingston

Project Description

Our oceans contain plastic pollution and marine organisms have been shown to ingest these anthropogenic particles. Despite some species being able to egest small sized plastics (microplastics), they may cause physical damage along the digestive tract. Persistent organic pollutants and harmful bacteria (e.g. Vibrio) have been found to aggregate onto the surfaces of plastics therefore posing additional health risks to marine organisms. Most of the available studies which determine how marine organisms respond to microplastic exposure and ingestion are modelled on plastic concentrations which are incredibly high and therefore not representative of concentrations found within the marine environment. This project presents an excellent opportunity for students to work towards understanding how environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics occupy the marine environment and how they might impact marine organisms within Narragansett Bay. Therefore, building on our knowledge of how anthropogenic pressures may impact Narragansett Bay ecosystems.

Students will focus on one or more of the following approaches depending on the project priorities during the fellowship: 1) applying a range of laboratory extractive collection techniques; 2) Developing an archive of digital imagery, characterization and quantifying microplastics; 3) Identification of microplastics using state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques; 4) Setting up and running 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.

This project involves:

  • field work
  • lab work
  • computational work

Available for SURF Flex?


Required/preferred skills

Reliable, enthusiastic, driven, problem solving students are strongly encouraged to apply with time management skills. Depending on the student interests and the project needs, students will need to be flexible and adaptable to whichever priorities need to be met (e.g. aquarium work or laboratory tasks).
Any skills of clean laboratory working, microscope photography, image processing/analysis, aquarium and/or husbandry skills would be highly beneficial. Training will be provided where required to expand and exercise skill sets.

Transportation needs

Need to access bay campus aquarium and field sites across RI