Microplastics research expeditions

ESR researchers have travelled to some of Aotearoa New Zealand's most pristine spots to gather data about the scale and spread of microplastic pollution.

In 2021 ESR microplastics researchers Dr Olga Pantos and Hayden Masterton travelled to Northland as part of a research voyage bringing together two national collaborative research programmes - the AIM² (Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics) project and the Marine Biosecurity Toolbox(external link) programme. Scientists from each programme are gathering data about microplastics pollution and assessing the prevalence of invasive pests in New Zealand’s coastal waters.

Collaboration and data sharing between the two projects is key, as plastic can act as a raft for invasive species to arrive in the waters around Aotearoa. Scientists across the two projects are working to identify which organisms tend to interact with different kinds of plastic so that they can make predictions about the threats the marine environment might face. During the voyage, Olga and Hayden collected over 100 water samples to analyse for the presence of microplastics at ESR’s Christchurch Science Centre, as well as delivering ocean literacy outreach work with schools and communities.

In the same year, the researchers also travelled to remote Fiordland to gather more data in some of New Zealand’s most pristine waters, and to consolidate knowledge about the extent of microplastic pollution. "It’s easy to think that anything bigger than 5mm isn’t a problem, but it really depends on the organism or environment interacting with it,” explains Olga. “The smaller microplastics get the more they can interact with and in different ways, which is what makes them so hard to deal with. It’s why they can now be found in virtually every part of our planet – including Fiordland.”

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