Current and Future Effects of Microplastics on Marine Shelf Ecosystems (MINIMISE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Biological and Marine Sciences

Abstract

Marine plastic debris has been recorded across all parts of the globe and its potential to cause harm to marine wildlife and the healthy functioning of the oceans is an area of huge current concern. Microscopic plastic debris, (microplastic <5 mm in size and with no lower size limit), is a particular concern since its small size allows it to be consumed by many marine organisms, including those at the base of marine food webs and/or intended for human consumption. Coastal oceans are particularly vulnerable; they are in close proximity to human activities that contribute towards pollution and at the same time they are highly productive habitats that support a high abundance of marine life. Protecting these vulnerable habitats from any risk from microplastics is a high priority, but is hindered by a lack of fundamental knowledge; of what methods to use to measure them in marine samples and wildlife, of how microplastics move and behave in the marine environment, how they get into marine animals and what the consequences are for individual animals and for the healthy function of marine ecosystems.

In this project we have brought together 4 Universities, the National Oceanography Centre and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Agricultural Sciences (Cefas) to tackle these critical knowledge gaps, focusing on the UK Shelf seas. Our consortium includes scientists with a wealth of expertise in polymer science and the ecotoxicology of microplastics as pollutants, and who have pioneered the field. This unique expertise is strengthened by the addition of new, exciting approaches brought by excellent early career scientists with expertise in understanding the responses of marine ecosystems including at the microbial level and in using computational approaches to calculate environmental risk.

We have designed a programme of work that includes many cutting edge new advances in technology, including a new method for measuring microplastics called FLAIR (Fluorescence assisted infrared microscopy) that offer the potential for rapid screening of many samples at once, allowing us to make experimental plans unhindered by technological limitations. We will develop the use of highly sensitive bio-imaging techniques to visualise microplastics deep within living tissues (Hyperspectral imaging, Coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy) and Quantittive Whole Body Autoradiography (QWBA) for tracing how microplastics move between prey animals and their predators. We will determine how the presence of microplastics and examples of the ubiquitous priority pollutants that can sorb to them in seawater affect the biology of marine invertebrates and fish. We will also determine how microplastics and contaminants affect the functioning of marine shelf seas sediments and the organisms that live in them under different ocean chemistry conditions. This is important because these processes support many aspects of marine life.

Finally, we will bring all of this data together with the very extensive body of existing monitoring data available to the project through ongoing activities of all partners, to construct a geospatial risk map for the UK shelf seas, using the latest approaches in integrated risk assessment. This unique risk map will offer a predictive tool for working out where impacts from microplastics pollution are likely to occur and risks are greatest, enabling policy makers to make science-backed assertions, e.g. to protect vulnerable habitats, aquaculture, fish spawning areas, fishing activities and other relevant ecosystem services. It will also provide a means of tracking remedial actions and to investigate whether there are 'proxies' for the presence of microplastic pollution that are quicker and easier to measure than microplastics themselves.

Planned Impact

A key deliverable of this research programme will be to develop novel monitoring and risk assessment tools for managing this high priority pollutant. The knowledge and tools generated by this project will be of interest and beneficial to government members, regulators and policy makers charged with marine legislation and environmental protection, the general public who are interested in conservation of marine life, enjoying the benefits of marine recreational activity and eating seafood, and industry groups who manufacture and use plastic items and are concerned about their impact on the wider environment and related consumer concerns. It is also relevant to fisheries, aquaculture and others involved in food production, who need information on whether microplastic and associated contaminants in fish and seafood may pose a risk to consumer health.

In order to maximise our dissemination and interactions with these key stakeholders we have established a Project Advisory Group comprising: DEFRA (Water Quality Management Directorate (Marine Litter Team)); the Environment Agency; Marine Scotland; the Marine Conservation Society; the water industry - both UKWIR (UK Water Industries Research) and South West Water; the plastics industry - Plastics Europe and the British Plastics Federation; major food and clothing retailer Marks and Spencer; international drinks manufacturer Coca Cola; international engineering, management, and development consultancy Mott MacDonald; waste and circular economy experts WRAP; and the Exeter University Global Centre for the Circular Economy working together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF).
Government members, regulators and policy makers charged with marine legislation and environmental protection will benefit from enhanced scientific evidence of the effects of microplastic pollution. Policy documents such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) Descriptor 10: Marine Litter, which requires that all EU member states consider how Good Environmental Status (GES) will be achieved by 2020. This includes the need to keep marine litter at levels that will not cause harm, and our results could help to inform on suitable targets for achieving this. Our research will also contribute new knowledge in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development", specifically Goal 14.1 that states 'By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution'.

The general public includes those who are interested in conservation of marine life, enjoying the benefits of marine recreational activity and eating seafood. Our results will be beneficial in providing an enhanced understanding of what happens to microplastic once it enters the marine environment, where it goes and what effects it has. This will help in determining how safe it is to eat seafood and what the likely influence of marine litter in degrading marine habitats is likely to be. This information could help in personal choices and campaigns to reduce or clean up litter. We will also generate new knowledge for species that live and flourish at the ocean floor, enhancing understanding of the diversity of marine life.

The PDRAs will be provided with the opportunity to develop their awareness of, and skills in, science communication and knowledge transfer by; a) participating in educational outreach events run by the educational organisation and long term collaborator Digital Explorer, such as their 'Oceans Academies' and Skype Classrooms; b) encouraging them to author articles for the popular press and social media; c) attending a NERC training course on science communication.
 
Title Everywhere in a littered World 
Description Litter is everywhere. It is on country lanes and city streets, washed up in polar regions and deposited on mountains as particles present in 'plastic rain'. It can be so small it needs to be viewed through a microscope and so large that its true scale can only be understood through satellite imagery. It's the coffee cup in the hedge and the Pacific garbage patch. This online exhibition presented works by international artists who explore everyday practices of littering and consider its effects. It asked: What might the future look like in our littered world? Are there ways that humans, animals and plants can co-exist with or even prosper amongst the rubbish? And what will it take to clean up our act? Everywhere was launched alongside the international conference MICRO2020 which explored the fate and impacts of microplastics in the environment 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact Online exhibition of marine litter for public and academic audiences 
URL https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/students-and-family/arts-institute-public-programme/everywhere#:~:text=22...
 
Description Established an approach to manufacture radio-labelled nanoparticle for use in fish uptake experiments
Confirmed uptake of micropalstics by live fish work in progress to analyze all of the results including uptake by various tissues.
Exploitation Route Key work to inform on potential for impact according to tissue concentrations
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description Participation in advisory committee - SAPEA Biodegradability of Plastics commenced March 2020
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Participation in advisory committee and dissemination event - Defra Marine Plastic Pollution including Litter - Evidence Review & Evidence Gaps & Recommendations for Future Policy Development
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Biodegradable Bioplastics - Assessing Environmental Risk (BIO-PLASTIC-RISK)
Amount £1,082,437 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V007556/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 11/2024
 
Description Lost at Sea - where are all the tyre particles? (TYRE-LOSS)
Amount £455,212 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V00185X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 11/2023
 
Description Micro and nano plastics and human health
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Plymouth 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2022 
End 09/2026
 
Description Tracking nanoplastics at environmental concentrations
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Funding ID RM1802-0440 
Organisation Royal Society of Chemistry 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 06/2019
 
Description A preliminary investigation into the effects of plastics (micro and nano) in lung cells 
Organisation University of Plymouth
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Nathaniel Clark led some pilot studies into the effect of micro and nano sized plastics on lung cells using an in vitro system. The exposures lasted up to 96 h before end points measurements were made. Images of the cells were taken to investigate the potential uptake of plastics, as well as some measurements of cytokine release, evidencing an inflammatory response by the cells.
Collaborator Contribution This work was in collaboration with Dr Gyuri Feyer and Professor Simon Jackson, who both helped formulate the scientific idea during the March-July 2020 lock-down. Also, Justyna Lopatecka helped with training of cell culture and end point measurements.
Impact Not applicable.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Abstract submission for platform presentation, titled "Quantification of nanoplastics uptake into and across the fish intestine using palladium-doped nanopolystyrene particles" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Submission of an abstract to give a platform presentation at the annual European Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.106994
 
Description Conference platform presentation titled "The dietary bioavailability of nanopalstics to salmon using an ex vivo gut sac technique" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A platform presentation was given at the international conference, MICRO 2020, where data and findings generated for this grant were disseminated to a wider audience. Over 70 people were streaming the session, and I received a follow up email asking about methodologies used. The audience was a mix of individuals from academia and industry, as well as undergrad and postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Futures 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact In September 2021, over 500 individuals and families locally and across the South West joined us to discover research across science, heritage, health and history, and meet the University of Plymouth researchers who work to make a difference to our daily lives.

FUTURES2021 brought research to life in new and exciting ways online and in-person, with a whole host of events ranging from storytelling to panel discussions, comedy, quizzes and broadcasts on community radio stations.

FUTURES is an annual public engagement festival dedicated to showcasing research and innovation, as part of the 2021 European Researchers' Night celebrations. With more than 300 cities across 30 European countries taking part, this exciting annual event showcases the South West's rich scientific and cultural heritage through fun, interactive learning with the Universities of Bath, Bath Spa, Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/futures2021
 
Description GERC workshop on UK research priorities for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop objective:
The Royal Society's Global Environmental Research Committee (GERC) is hosting this workshop with the aim to identify priority areas for UK research within the UN Decade of Ocean Science at a level suitable for possible UK research programmes. The intention is to produce a set of priority topics that will be synthesised into an overarching document for wide dissemination. Priority areas will take account of the Sustainable Development Goals, and of UK research strengths in science and the application of science to society. The audience will include funding agencies, research institutes and the UK Government.
Workshop format: 4 sessions over 11 days. The sessions will be recorded to allow people who have missed a session to catch up.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description HUMAN HEALTH & THE OCEAN IN A CHANGING WORLD 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 16:30-17:30 SESSION 3: OCEAN POLLUTION AND HUMAN HEALTH - Part 2
Mini-review (3 x 15'):
• PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS, PESTICIDES AND OTHER CHEMICALS
Dr. Amro HAMDOUN - Scripps Institution of Oceanography
• PLASTICS AND MICRO DEBRIS
Pr. Richard THOMPSON - University of Plymouth
• HEALTH EFFECTS OF CHEMICAL POLLUTANTS
Pr. Patrick FENICHEL - University of Nice
SHORT COMMUNICATIONS (3 x 5')
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www.oceanhealthmonaco.org/
 
Description Industry Action on Microfibres Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Working group to identify research priorities for industry on microfibre pollution
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited speak at British Plastics Federation Recycling Seminar - 7 November 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Subject: Invitation to speak at British Plastics Federation Recycling Seminar - 7 November 2019

Hi Richard

I hope that you are well.

On 7 November 2019 the BPF is hosting a recycling seminar at the offices of Squire Patton Boggs near Liverpool Street Station in London.

As part of this event we are hoping to have a session looking at achieving sustainability in recycling and having listened to your recent appearance in The life scientific, the head of our recycling group Roger Baynham has requested that I approach you to talk on this topic.

We would ask you to speak on responsible use of plastic, scientific metrics of sustainability and what you think responsible use of plastics might look like and of course the role of recycling.

We would ask you to talk in a 25 minute presentation from 10.50 to 11.15 which would include 20 minutes for presentation and 5 minutes for q and a.

To give you a little bit more information about the conference, we are expecting between 50 and 60 attendees to join us on the day, the majority of whom will be recyclers, I include last year's delegate list in this email.

We are planning on having sessions at the event that will include:

. Extended Producer Responsibility - will planned reforms help our industry
. Investing in New Capacity - How to strengthen the infrastructure to be able to reach the targets
. Innovation in Black Plastics Recycling
. Chemical Recycling - an overview

Can I ask you to let me know if you would be interested in speaking at this event by a deadline of close of play on 19 July. Please do also let me know if you have any questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description OECD Workshop on Microplastics from Tyre Wear: Knowledge, Mitigation Measures, and Policy Options 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Aim and objectives of the workshop
The aim of the workshop is to deliver preliminary policy recommendations to mitigate and manage tyre and road wear particles (TRWPs) in aquatic environments. The objective is to gather environmental policy makers, scientists, industrial representatives, water and wastewater utilities, IGOs and civil society to discuss tyres and microplastics, specifically addressing issues related to:
? The measurement of microplastics emitted from vehicle tyres, and their pathways into aquatic environments.
? The state of scientific knowledge on the environmental occurrence of TRWP, and their impacts on ecological and human health.
? Strategies to mitigate the emission of microplastics from tyres and to capture the emitted particles, including policy instruments, best practices and initiatives applicable throughout the lifecycle of tyres.
1
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.oecd.org/water/oecdworkshoponmicroplasticsfromtyrewearknowledgemitigationmeasuresandpoli...
 
Description The future: Considering what Impact might microplastics have on the GI tract and Liver" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact British Society of Gastroenterology. Every year we organise sessions as part of the annual conference. This year, in one of the sessions we are planning is 3 talks on the influence of modern society on the GI tract/liver. We read your extensive royal society publication and concluding paper "Plastics, the environment and human health; current consensus and future trends" with great interest.

We would very much like to hear about what impact plastics/microplastics might have on the GI tract and liver in the future. We wondered if you would be willing to give a 20 min talk giving an overview of the topic at our conference in Liverpool? (Monday, June 15th 2020).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020