Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

Microplastics article in Savannah Morning News

February 20, 2017
Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Reporter Mary Landers wrote a very nice article about Dr. Jay Brandes’s research into microplastic and microfiber pollution on the Georgia coast.

http://savannahnow.com/news/2017-02-19/skidaway-researchers-track-plastic-fibers-coastal-food-chain

Scientists track microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast

January 31, 2017

In recent years, the public has become attuned to the problem of trash in the ocean, especially plastic, as images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have spread through media and the Internet. Now, University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Jay Brandes is leading a team investigating another issue closer to home on the Georgia coast: microplastics.

Jay Brandes

Jay Brandes

These are tiny pieces of plastic—smaller than  five millimeters, or about a fifth of an inch—that have either been manufactured small or have broken down from larger pieces. They can be found in our beaches, water and in the digestive systems of aquatic wildlife.

“Five millimeters is still something you can see with the naked eye, but if you are out at the beach you aren’t going to pick up on it easily,” Brandes said. “So we say anything smaller than 5 millimeters is considered a microplastic.”

A few pieces of microplastic collected from the Georgia coast.

A few pieces of microplastic collected from the Georgia coast.

 

Funded by Georgia Sea Grant, Brandes and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant educator Dodie Sanders are in the first year of a two-year study to ascertain the extent of microplastic pollution in Georga’s coastal waters.

“Right now we are just trying to get an idea if there is a problem, and if there is, how prevalent it is,” Brandes said.

Microplastics come from several sources. Beginning in 1972, cosmetics manufacturers started adding plastic microbeads to exfoliating body washes and facial scrubs, which often pass freely through water treatment plants. When scientists reported finding these microbeads in rivers, lakes and oceans, it prompted a worldwide discussion on the issue. In 2015, Congress enacted legislation requiring the cosmetics industry to remove microbeads from rinse-off cosmetics by July of this year.

The sun also contributes to the production of microplastics. Plastic exposed to sunlight eventually fades, becomes brittle and breaks down into smaller pieces.

“All of us have probably seen a Styrofoam cup break down and the little beads come out,” Brandes said.  “So there is the physical breakdown of the plastics into smaller and smaller pieces as they grind against each other and sand grains.”

To assess the extent of microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast, the research team makes use of the regular trawls conducted by UGA Marine Education and Aquarium staff. They collect the fish, shrimp, squid and other animals captured in the trawl and take them back to a laboratory where they will dissect them and analyze the contents of their gut.

Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

“The first thing we have to do is to subject the gut contents to some extremely harsh chemicals to destroy the flesh and leave us mostly with the plastics,” Brandes said. “When dissecting even a small fish, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack if you don’t get rid of all the other stuff.”

What is left is examined under a microscope and the plastic pieces identified and counted. The researchers have already found some surprises. Everywhere they look, whether it is beach sand or the contents of a fish’s stomach, they are seeing microfibers, extremely fine synthetic fiber used to create textiles.

According to Brandes, microfibers are pervasive—so much so that when the researchers take samples to the laboratory they have to take special measures to prevent contamination of their samples from microfibers floating in the air. It is not clear, however, if the microfibers are causing any harm to the marine organisms that ingest them.

“We are not finding fish with their stomachs packed with microfibers,” Brandes said. “It’s hard to tell if they are causing any real problems.”

The project also has an educational component. Brandes has taught workshops in which he takes  groups of K-12 teachers to Tybee Island to collect sand and return it to the laboratory for microscopic analysis. He says the teachers are usually shocked with what they see.

“Hey, you thought that sand was clean, and from a tourist standpoint it is,” he said. “But there is still stuff in there and then you start talking about where it came from and what kinds of effects it may have.”

The project is expected to be completed and the results published by early 2018.

Skidaway microplastics study get’s front-page coverage

January 27, 2016
Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

A “just-starting” research project into the extent of microplastics pollution on the Georgia coast was featured on the front page of this morning’s Savannah Morning News. Hat’s off to Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes and UGA Marine Extension’s Dodie Sanders.

http://savannahnow.com/news/2016-01-26/skidaway-researchers-look-plastics-local-shrimp-fish

Jay Brandes interviewed on GPB

January 14, 2016

Skidaway Institute professor Jay Brandes was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting regarding the recent move to ban microbeads and his upcoming project on microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast.

http://www.gpb.org/news/2016/01/13/microbeads-banned-plastic-remains-threat-oceans

Georgia Sea Grant makes awards to Skidaway Institute researchers

December 7, 2015

There was a nice article on the front page of this morning’s, Savannah Morning News. It highlighted three UGA Skidaway Institute research project that have received funding approval from Georgia Sea Grant.

You can read it here. 

UGA study finds high marine debris, need for standardized reporting along Georgia coast

February 3, 2015

Skidaway Island, Ga. – University of Georgia researchers are hoping to find a consistent way to record the marine debris—particularly pieces of plastic—crowding Georgia’s beaches as part of an effort to find a solution for the growing problem.

Marine debris has been washing up on Georgia beaches and uninhabited islands for years. Combatting the issue starts with figuring out how big it is, and a new two-part study from the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Marine Extension published online in the Marine Pollution Bulletin finds that marine debris reporting can improve if it becomes standardized.

The problem right now is this: A volunteer group goes out and records the weight or volume of the marine debris collected. However, volunteers don’t often record the specific square feet measured or the contents of the debris. Due to a lack of report standardization, researchers often can’t compare the marine debris, especially plastic fragments, reported by different groups.

A sample of marine debris collected along the Georgia coast sits on a table at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

A sample of marine debris collected along the Georgia coast sits on a table at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

“We’ve seen plastic usage go up dramatically,” said study co-author Dodie Sanders, a marine educator and outreach coordinator for UGA Marine Extension, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach. “It’s an important 21st century global issue. We need to learn more to better understand the issues of marine debris.”

The study’s lead author Richard F. Lee, professor emeritus with the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, agrees.

“Plastic debris is created on land and then it goes into rivers, flows into the ocean and washes up on land,” he said. “We’ve found that plastic debris ends up not only on populated beaches, but on inaccessible islands as well. We’ve found plastic everywhere on the coast.”

The first part of the study gathered debris from 20 sites along Georgia’s coast, including Tybee, Cumberland and Ossabaw islands. The debris was reported from volunteer organizations like Clean Coast, which hold monthly beach and marsh cleanups in Georgia.

Participants in a July 2014 teacher's workshop focusing on marine debris sift through the sands of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

Participants in a July 2014 teacher’s workshop focusing on marine debris sift through the sands of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

“The volunteer groups reported the weight of the debris, though we didn’t know the exact amount of plastic,” Lee said. “Based off the volunteer information we received, we did a follow-up study to more precisely measure the marine debris in a fixed location and period of time.”

The total collected debris ranged from 180 to 1,000 kilograms. The levels of plastic debris differed at each site over the course of the study, though plastic was consistently among the mix. Found plastic included plastic bottles, wrappers, food utensils and fragments of fishing gear.

Sanders spearheaded the second part of the study, where she and students collected plastic debris from Skidaway and Wassaw islands over a period of two years.

“While Dr. Lee did data analysis, I did some of the field work,” Sanders said. “We picked the two islands in the second part of the study because they were accessible sites where Marine Extension often takes students for marine education.”

For the fieldwork, Sanders and students visited the islands each month. They took inventory of what kinds of plastics were on specific areas of the coast.

“On about a monthly basis, I would take students to learn about debris and tally all the items on the islands,” Sanders said. “We took areas of 200 meters by 40 meters and recorded the items found. We also used GPS units to mark what areas we had done.”

The students, many of them in middle and high school, came from all over Georgia to assist. As part of Marine Extension, Sanders regularly teaches visiting students about marine life. When students volunteered to clean up, she tried to emphasize the issues surrounding debris.

“The bulk of the plastic comes from land,” Sanders said. “When people think of marine debris, they think of the ocean. I try to emphasize watershed concepts—what happens upstream ultimately gets downstream.”

“It can take years for plastic to degrade,” Lee said, adding, “80 percent of the plastic found at Wassaw turned out to be fragments. The fragments then spread and can have a number of environmental effects.”

Sanders says that since plastic debris is everywhere on the coast, it has to be addressed and reported efficiently to reduce its effects.

“There are proactive and reactive approaches to the issues of marine debris, and both are important,” she said. “We’ve been reactive so far by picking up debris. The proactive approach is our role in educating the public and researching the negative impacts of marine debris.”

The study was supported by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Incentive Grant, NOAA Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

The full article on “The amount and accumulation rate of plastic debris on marshes and beaches on the Georgia coast” is available at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X14008200#.

 

More on teachers’ workshop trip to Tybee

July 14, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a nice story in the Savannah Morning News on Saturday about the teachers’ workshop trip to Tybee Island last week. Here is the story.

Nice newspaper article!

July 25, 2012

Mary Landers from the Savannah Morning News wrote a nice article on our marine plastics project.It appeared on the front page of Sunday’s issue. Thanks, Mary!

The reporters who went to Wassaw Island last week. Mary is wearing the straw hat on the far right.

Plastics pollution a widespread problem on the Georgia Coast

July 5, 2012

No part of the Georgia coast is protected from pollution by plastics and other marine debris. That is one finding of a study conducted by Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Jay Brandes and Dick Lee.

The scientists studied the collection totals from beach clean-up programs by environmental groups like Clean Coast and the Tybee Beautification Association and Rivers Alive. They found that while beach-sweep programs at populated spots like Tybee Island collect the most plastic, even sweeps in relatively remote locations like Cumberland and Ossabaw Islands collect a sizeable haul. A 2007 beach sweep on Tybee by the Tybee Beautification Association and Rivers Alive collected 5,400 pounds of plastic. In similar clean-ups by Clean Coast in 2009, volunteers collected 1,100 pounds on Cumberland Island and 750 pounds on Ossabaw Island.

The places with the largest amount of plastics accumulation were Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Turner’s Creek and Pigeon Island.

“It is interesting that some of the beaches receiving relatively low numbers of visitors, such as Blackbeard Island and Cumberland Island, still have relatively high amounts of plastic debris,” Brandes said. “This suggests that the source of plastics on remote beaches is the surrounding coastal waters that contain plastics from both inland and the coast.”

The Skidaway Institute researchers focused their attention on plastics for several reasons. Plastics tend to be very durable and persist in the environment for long periods of time.  Also, relatively small pieces of plastic can be a threat to marine animals. Fish sometime eat the plastics, which can block their digestive systems. Sometimes harmful contaminants tend to cling to plastic and can be ingested when the plastic is eaten.

“Plastics pollution has been getting a lot of attention recently, especially those large gyres, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Brandes. “But most of those plastics are coming from land and that means that most of the plastic in our environment is going to remain near the shore.”

For this study, the scientists were restricted to analyzing data provided by the various beach clean-up groups. The problem is these groups are, understandably, usually more concerned about cleaning up the beach than sorting types of debris they collect. Based on earlier studies of marine debris and limited sorting that has been done during some cleanups, the research team worked under the assumption that one half of the total material collected was comprised of plastics.

The plastics problem is not limited to coolers and plastic cups. According to Brandes, many of the larger plastic objects eventually become broken down into smaller pieces, as tiny as a grain of sand. They may remain suspended in the water column. Brandes has found these micro-plastic particles while collecting samples for other projects.

“Right now, very little is known about what kind of impact these micro-plastics might be having on fish or other parts of the marine ecosystem,” said Brandes.

Students in the Marine Debris program weight some of the material they have collected on the north beach of Wassaw Island.

To help with the problem of understanding what kinds of plastics foul our beaches and marshes, Skidaway Institute scientists are collecting additional data on marine plastics and other debris though a cooperative educational program, “Marine Debris,” with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service.

“Marine Debris” is a hands-on, interactive program that incorporates the topic of marine debris with an emphasis on plastic debris along the coast of Georgia. Students and their teachers are conducting shoreline marine debris surveys on Wassaw Island to determine types of marine debris, weight of plastics collected and accumulation rates for the designated site. The students are compiling the data using the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Accumulation Survey protocol. The data is being submitted to the Southeast Marine Debris Initiative data base.

Skidaway Institute lecture to focus threats to water quality

October 8, 2010

The growing threats to water quality and the potential affect on Coastal Georgia will be the focus of the first lecture in the next program in the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography 2010 Fall Lecture Series, “Crystal Ball: Changes Afoot for Our Oceans and Coast in the 21st Century. ”

The final program in the series will be presented on Monday, October 11, at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Educational Alliance (JEA) on Abercorn Street. The same program will be repeated on Thursday, October 14, also at 7 p.m., in the McGowen Library Auditorium on the Skidaway Institute campus.

 

Dr. Marc Frischer in the field.

 

Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer will open the program with an examination of the threats to local water quality.

“Since the beginning of the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, water quality has been recognized as a critical public health and welfare issue,” said Frischer. “With the world population approaching seven billion, a significant fraction of fresh water resources contaminated, and potentially catastrophic ecosystem changes associated with climate change looming, there is a growing recognition that protection of the world’s water resources goes well beyond drinking water and human pathogen management.”

Frischer will discuss an ongoing long-term coastal water and ecosystem monitoring program in the southeastern United States where environmental are underway that threaten the long-term health and sustainability of coastal water resources in the region.

 

Dr. Dana Savidge

 

In the second lecture on the program, Skidaway Institute professor Dana Savidge will describe new high-tech developments that allow scientists to study the ocean by remote control. These include the development of technologies to gather information from shore or satellite; increasing variety in autonomous vehicles gathering measurements at sea; and exciting new “laboratory in a capsule” instruments performing analysis in the ocean that had previously only been possible by transporting seawater samples to labs on land. Savidge will discuss some of these new capabilities and the national effort to develop an effective national ocean observatory within which to operate them.

All programs will begin at 7 p.m.

Admission to the lectures will be $5 per program for adults. Students and members of the Skidaway Marine Science Foundation and The Learning Center will be admitted free.

For additional information, visit the Skidaway Institute Web site at www.skio.usg.edu or call (912) 598-2325.