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DTU TO INVESTIGATE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF OCEAN PLASTIC

Thursday, December 13, 2018 

The National Institute of Aquatic Resources, DTU Aqua, is co-operating with four other research institutions to investigate the impact of plastic in the ocean and the need for new legislation.

Researchers from five Danish research institutions, including DTU, are now collaborating to develop knowledge about and solutions to marine plastic pollution. The collaboration takes place within the frame of the MarinePlastic research centre, headed by Aalborg University and supported by the Velux Foundation with DKK 20 million.

In order to assess the impact of microplastics on humans and the environment, DTU researchers will investigate under what circumstances zooplankton, mussels and fish ingest microplastics and what happens when they do. For instance, microplastic size, composition and age may determine if microplastics are eaten or rejected by the organisms, and if it enters the food web.

Previous studies are based on laboratory tests with microplastic concentrations far above the level found in the sea, but DTU researchers will include environmentally realistic concentrations of plastic in their experiments and supplement with studies on the distribution of microplastics in the ocean. In addition, the researchers will coat the experimental microplastics with a biofilm, as seen in nature, to test whether this will increase the organism's appetite for microplastics.

"In the project we will act as knowledge brokers between researchers and other stakeholders, e.g., authorities, industry and NGOs, so that research results can be transferred into action. Perhaps society needs answers to key issues that we can pass on to the researchers, and vice versa, researchers can point out issues that should be regulated and where the scientific knowledge is sufficient to do so," says Associate Professor Steffen Foss Hansen, DTU Environment who leads this part of the project.

Senior Researcher Nanna B. Hartmann from DTU Environment, added: "It can have major consequences for the entire ecosystem if microplastics affect zooplankton negatively, as plankton forms the basis of the marine food webs and is an important food source for many fish, birds and marine mammals. At the same time, many people are worried about microplastics in seafood, in particular whether it is a problem for their health."

Plastics in the ocean is signifciant environmental problem and has implications on huma health. Up to 80% of the world's waste consists of plastic, and 300 million tons of plastic are discharged to the ocean every year.

The DTU announcement follows recent news concerning the failure of Dutch start-up The Ocean CleanUp‘s project to remove the plastic waste from the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

The cleanup system, System 001, which began removing rubbish from the site in September, consists of a 600m long U-shaped floating barrier with a 3m skirt attached below. The system is designed to be propelled by wind and waves, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it. Debris is funnelled to the center of the system then deposited on land for recycling.

However, the project is not going according to plan as the System 001 device is failing to hold on to the collected rubbish.

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