PML scientist Dr Penelope Lindeque is part of a team shortlisted for a prestigious award as a result of their pioneering marine microplastic research.
The group in the running for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Impact Award, features Professor Richard Thompson OBE, of the University of Plymouth, and the University of Exeter’s Professor Tamara Galloway.
Together, the team have been instrumental in first identifying the microplastic problem, investigating its impacts, and raising awareness of the issues surrounding it, from the public to the UK government. The NERC Impact Award now recognises the researchers’ impact and influence in a knowledge area that could be crucial for the future of the global ocean and the lives that depend upon it.
“We’re absolutely delighted that the work our microplastic team have undertaken over the past 10 years at PML, in collaboration with Plymouth University and the University of Exeter, has been recognised by NERC,” said Dr Lindeque, Head of the Microplastic Research Team at PML. “We have disseminated our results on the distribution, fate and impact of microplastics in the marine environment to a wide audience, from school children to government, and have been overwhelmed by the uptake of the issue of plastic pollution and the impact of our research. We’re extremely excited to be shortlisted for the NERC impact award and are very much looking forward to the event and meeting the other highly regarded shortlistees from all categories.
“The oceans continue to provide a source of enjoyment, inspiration and passion to many of us. It has been warming to see how the general public have taken up the issue of plastic pollution in the marine environment. Grassroots action to limit single use plastic, push for government policy change and engage in beach cleans are all signs of ocean optimism. It is important for all of us who work or are directly dependent on the sea to act as ambassadors, helping people to make that connection with the marine environment. I hope that through our research we will continue to provide evidence to realise that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas and maintain clean, healthy and productive oceans for future generations.”
Professor Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, said: “Since our first study describing microplastics was published in 2004, the science of plastic pollution in our oceans has changed almost beyond recognition. Funding from NERC and others has played a crucial role in that and having robust scientific information not only on the problem, but also around the solutions is essential to help inform change.
“Research conducted at the University of Plymouth has helped unite scientific evidence from across the disciplines and in particular the social and behavioural sciences which will be fundamental to catalysing societal change. More plastic has been produced in the last seven years than in all of the last century. Through greater awareness of the problem, the wider world is waking up to this global challenge and the importance of taking action now. A key challenge now is in evidencing the most appropriate solutions and this will require us to continue working across disciplines to help ensure plastics are used responsibly; achieving the societal benefits they can bring without the current environmental and economic impacts.”
Professor Tamara Galloway, of the University of Exeter, said: “We all have to make choices about how we use plastics and it isn't always easy to do the right thing. Plastics are in such a huge range of products - from mascara to coffee cups - that it can feel impossible to make a difference, but we can. The passion that drives my research is that I want to protect the environment. I want to protect it for my children, and for future generations.
“It is vitally important that we tackle the issue by preventing plastic waste from accumulating in the environment. We need to make the supply chain circular rather than the current linear model, which means usefully re-using the plastic products we make. We need to find alternative materials that can be produced cheaply and, crucially, don't break down into particles or chemicals that can cause harm to the environment.
“The public interest globally in plastic pollution has grown phenomenally since the microbeads ban. We are really hoping we can use all of that publicity in a really positive way, and drive some change to use materials that are safer by design, so that we get all the benefits of plastic, but we don't waste so much of it by throwing it away needlessly into the marine environment.”