Project Proposal

Marine Plastic Pollution


Over the past century, plastic has gone from invention to ubiquity due to its versatile, lightweight, and durable nature1,2. These desirable qualities in a commercial material, however, also make its disposal quite challenging. Plastic disposal has become a cause for concern as knowledge of plastic pollution in the marine environment has increased exponentially in the past few decades. By 2014, global plastic resin production increased 689% since 1975 with the largest market sector (~40%) being packaging – all intended for single use5. Jambeck et al. (2015) estimates that 4.8 – 12.7 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal populations each year. Marine plastic pollution can already be found in many environments including all coastal areas and remote beaches, both poles and trapped in sea ice, throughout the open ocean and water column, and on the sea floor3.

The majority of investigations into the impacts of plastics on marine biota to date have focused on entanglement of marine animals as well as ingestion of plastic by many marine species1, 2, 3. Microplastic ingestion has been demonstrated in a large range of marine organisms including but not limited to seabirds, cetaceans, fish, crustaceans, oysters, pelagic larvae, zooplankton, and even corals1, 2. Ingested plastics can obstruct feeding and block the passage of food to the digestive tract or cause food intake to be limited by pseudo-satiation2. Due to a large surface to volume ratio, microplastics are also known to concentrate persistent organic pollutants, aqueous metals, and endocrine disrupting chemicals4, 7. In addition to concentrated environmental pollutants, plastic additives incorporated during manufacture may also pose a problem for marine organisms through leaching. These persistent pollutants, plastic additives, and plastic itself can then pose a major issue when considering trophic transfer. This also should be viewed as a potential human health concern since many impacted species are sold for human consumption6.

Another more recent concern, and the topic of my thesis research, has been the colonization of marine plastic debris by some potentially pathogenic microbes including members of the genus Vibrio8. This genus comprises several species of human and animal pathogens, which have caused several pandemics and countless epidemics across the globe. Since plastics have a degradation time of hundreds to thousands of years, they remain in the environment on drastically long timescales and thus provide habitats for the colonization and possible dissemination of pathogens and their associated infectious diseases8.

Project Description

The outreach product I intend to create will be an infographic targeting policy-makers for action managing plastic pollution. Whether these policy makers will be at the local, state, or national level remains to be determined. Generally this infographic will address the many issues of plastic pollution listed above and why alternative solutions and changed behaviors are imperative. This plastic pollution problem can be addressed in the form of energy expense in plastic production, waste production and disposal, and hazards of plastic in the environment. I will include a call for action section after determining key issues these policy makers are faced with. However, before speaking with these policy makers, I anticipate one of the calls to action recommending the development of a bill similar to that of France’s 2015 Energy Transition For Green Growth bill, which will ban plastic cutlery, plates, and cups by 2020. This bill should also include a ban on straws/stirrers and plastic bags – if I’m not getting carried away. But honestly!

Desired Impact

My hope is for this infographic to resonate with policy makers and support the idea of a ban of single-use plastic. A drastic change in the way we do things related to plastic use and its subsequent disposal is mandatory if we want a healthy and clean environment. Although disposable cutlery, straws, and plastic bags represent a smaller portion of marine debris than beverage bottles and cigarette filters, targeting these single-use items are nonetheless key in reducing our plastic footprint on the marine environment. Seeing these bans established in France provides hope that other nations, including ours, will responsibly follow in succession.


Literature Cited

  1. Andrady, A. L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62(8), 1596-1605
  2. Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C., & Galloway, T. S. (2011). Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62(12), 2588-2597.
  3. Derraik, J. G. (2002). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44(9), 842-852.
  4. Galgani, F., Hanke, G., & Maes, T. (2015). Global distribution, composition and abundance of marine litter. In Marine anthropogenic litter (pp. 29-56). Springer International Publishing.
  5. Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R. (2015). Science 347(6223), 768-771.
  6. Neves, D., Sobral, P., Ferreira, J. L., & Pereira, T. (2015). Ingestion of microplastics by commercial fish off the Portuguese coast. Marine pollution bulletin, 101(1), 119-126.
  7. Wardrop, P., Shimeta, J., Nugegoda, D., Morrison, P., Miranda, A. Tang, M. & Clarke, B. (2016). ‘Chemical Pollutants Sorbed to Ingested Microbeads from Personal Care Products Accumulate in Fish.’ Environ. Sci. Technol. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b06280.
  8. Zettler, E. R., Mincer, T. J., & Amaral-Zettler, L. A. (2013). Life in the “plastisphere”: microbial communities on plastic marine debris. Environmental Science & Technology, 47(13), 7137-7146.

Communicating the “Unsolveable”: Stakeholders in the Oyster Fishery in Chesapeake Bay

The problems within the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay are well known and go back for decades. Historic levels of overfishing have led to depleted stocks and intense competition over rights and access to the fishery today; more and more groups want a piece of this shrinking pie. The pieces of this pie however do not all have similar intentions and this diversity among slices has led to massive miscommunication and distrust within the fishery. Everyone living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a stakeholder, whether they realize it or not, but certain groups of stakeholders appear more frequently in the ongoing oyster fishery discussions. Watermen don’t trust the science about oyster stocks, government officials are setting catch limits without consulting aquaculturists needs and NGO’s have their own agenda to support their cause. With the variety of interests within the fishery, tensions naturally arise and not everyone will be able to get exactly what they want. But it is exactly because of that fact that the groups involved need to interact with and consult each other. Bringing together these diverse stakeholder groups is at the core of my research; I want to see how they interact with each other and work together to form policy recommendations for the future of the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. An especially key component of this is gauging how the stakeholder groups react to and incorporate the science they are presented about the state of the fishery. Stakeholders’ confidence and levels of understanding concerning the science of a fishery is key to properly managing it; if stakeholders don’t believe in the science that was used to form policy aka catch limits, they will not follow them.  Even more specifically, I am looking at their opinions on the role of social science in this process, and its role in marine science in general. This is the facet of my research that this project will focus on, helping ensure that the stakeholder groups know how to discuss the science, their role in this project and the role of social science in the process.

Taking into consideration my unique situation where I have access and opportunity to work with an array of stakeholder options as part of my research, I decided to focus on the one that could make the largest difference. The stakeholder group I am looking to connect with most strongly during my research is the watermen because I feel like this group has the greatest potential at reaching out to other stakeholders not directly involved in our grant research project and the most to gain from my project. The other stakeholders that are a part of my research (NGO’s, government officials, managers, etc.) don’t have as much freedom with their speech as the watermen do and it is more important to me that the people who will feel the greatest impacts from the end result of an oyster policy plan in terms of economic livelihood, the watermen, have these resources. That’s why I’m planning to consult with Karen Hudson who works as a Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist at VIMS and has ample experience communicating with this group of stakeholders. I figure she knows how to address this group very well and my project will highly benefit from her expertise.

My project idea is to create a set of “elevator talk” guidelines for watermen to help them better understand and communicate to others about the research that we are doing and that they are an integral part of; without them and the other stakeholder groups, this research could not occur. A huge part of my overall research project assumes that between meetings that we will hold over the next 3 to 4 years, the stakeholders will be talking to their friends, neighbors, family and other stakeholders about the proceedings of these meetings. Since this communication is going to happen and is encouraged even, I want to ensure that they know how to start the conversation or answer broad questions about what they are doing and what our overall goals as scientists are . The elevator points will focus on three separate areas of concern

  1. What are the overall goals of the Coastal SEES (larger research project)?
    1. Letting them know what exactly we are doing here and why
  2. Their role as a stakeholder in these meetings.
    1. Why did we invite them?
    2. What can they contribute?
    3. What are they expected to contribute?
  3. The importance of social science in research
    1. Why should they care about social science in research?
    2. What benefits does including social science have in research?

The watermen stakeholders will be asked questions about all of these aspects so I want them to be prepared with ideas of how to answer. I am going to emphasize and try to format the elevator talking points as such so that they don’t seem like forced speeches but instead seem like diving boards, jumping off points for conversation. I think this will address the concerns of the watermen stakeholders because they want to know the answers to these questions too and if we provide good answers for them that they can understand, they can then spread that information around. The watermen stakeholders are obviously interested since they made this 3 to 4 year time commitment; my goal is to ease their ability to communicate with others so that they, and the people they talk to, see the science of this project as less intimidating and more understandable.