This month PML’s Alice Wilson McNeal was announced as the overall winner of the P1 Marine Foundation National Student Awards 2015.
Alice was presented with the prestigious award at an event where she showcased the project ‘Plankton eating plastic: worth worrying about?’ to representatives from the P1 Marine Foundation, Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), environmentalists and university professors from around the UK.
Alice’s ground-breaking research project focuses on ‘microplastics’, plastic pieces smaller than 5mm which are present in large quantities in our ocean today. They can be directly produced for industry or cosmetics (like the microbeads in things like toothpaste and exfoliants) or broken down from larger objects.
Zooplankton, the tiny animals at the base of the marine food web, are at risk of ingesting these plastic fragments because of their size, and been shown to do so under laboratory conditions, causing harm to a range of taxa. Until now, however, scientists were unsure of whether this was also occurring in their natural environment.
Through the project it has been discovered that crustaceans called copepods, one of the most abundant zooplankton groups, and decapod larvae are both ingesting plastic in the ocean. As zooplankton have such an important place in all marine ecosystems, it is vital for scientists to fully understand what kind of impact plastic ingestion is having on their populations.
The Awards were launched by P1 Marine Foundation in 2012 to reward students in higher education who produce outstanding work that will help to protect and conserve the marine environment. The ceremony gave students the opportunity to showcase their projects to an audience of academics, business leaders and non-governmental organizations.