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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

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

Currently Active: 

MINIMISE will determine how the presence of microplastics, with and without pollutants that they can carry, affect the biology of marine invertebrates and fish and the functioning of marine shelf seas sediments under present and future conditions.

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 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 Quantitative 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.




Type of project: NERC Highlight Topic

Principal Investigators:

Martin Solan
Jasmin Godbold

Funding provider: NERC

Funding dates: 01/Feb/2019 to 31/Jan/2022


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