This partnership builds on a small-scale University of Brighton 2018 pilot study to explore plastic pollution in Chichester Harbour. One of the issues of concern is the significant decline in recent years of the oyster population in the harbour and whether microplastics have a role to play in this.
Microplastics have been identified as a particular research focus for the university's Centre for Aquatic Environment. Smaller plastic particles may have a potential toxic effect on organisms; toxicity may originate from the plastic itself or from adsorbed pollutants, such as pesticides. Drifting plastic particles may also provide a platform for marine life (including invasive species, or even pathogens) to attach and get carried away. Debris that sink on the seafloor may also smother the seabed thus damaging the shellfish or seagrass. Accidental or deliberate ingestion of microplastics by marine animals becomes a potential pathway through which marine pollutants and pathogens enter the food chain.
This partnership provided a mechanism for integrating the unique knowledge, experience, and skills of community and scientists. For example, partners worked together on research projects, identifying appropriate funding for future collaborations and supporting/co-supervising project students. In addition, the partnership co-developed research on plastic pollution, to better understand community needs, perceptions and requirements.
Co-produced research enabled the partners to trial new methods for tracking pollutants at different heights in a water column. This is particularly important as larvae often live in the top of the water where microplastics can accumulate. The research also revealed a surprising result – the oysters had ingested thousands of micro glass particles.
The partners held a symposium to raise awareness of the issues and look for community solutions to the problem. Currently, the team are working with a number of local organisations and a range of scientists including a chemist, civil engineer, geologist and microbiologist, to pilot a product aimed at absorbing the glass fibres that are present in the water.
In 2020, EU Interreg Channel funding was secured with the aim to develop quick tests to assess the level and effect of contaminants in the water, on organisms including oysters.