Road trips, Caribbean islands and many, many bags of sand

By Lone Mokkenstorm – BSc student Leiden University College

If someone would have told me a project in an Environmental Science course would eventually evolve into a capstone, I wouldn’t have believed it. Now, a year later, Lucia, Froukje and me have been working in the lab for weeks, extracting plastic particles from sand samples and even preparing for capstone research overseas.

Last February, we rented a car to take sand samples along the Dutch coast. It turned into a road trip that involved two days, a boat, an island and ten beaches. We even climbed the most muddy dike in The Netherlands, looking for  mud and dressed in a wading suit! After this adventure, third year student Aiken Besley taught us the extraction procedure he used for his research. The past few weeks we have been working on the extraction of these samples from the Dutch coast. The results will hopefully give us more insights into distributions and concentrations on the national scale as well as the potential factors that influence them.

The results will be compared with the research we will be doing in The Caribbean in June. The Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) on St. Eustatius will host us for 5 weeks. We will take samples on this island as well as the surrounding islands Anguilla, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.  In the institute’s lab, we will quantify the microplastic concentrations of these samples. The dynamics in an insular coastal system are of a very different kind than in the coastal system of The Netherlands and it would be certainly interesting to see how this affects microplastic distributions.

Soon we will be starting with the global samples as well. The more than 40 samples we have gotten so far from LUC students and staff are amazingly diverse, and we would like to encourage everyone to contribute to this project coming summer as well. All you need is some ziplock bags, a spoon and a (phone with a) camera. Interested? Check out the sampling instructions and the map of the destinations we have covered so far!

Although we understand everyone is eager to know how many microplastics were found in the samples  that were brought back last summer, there is a reason why we prioritized the Dutch samples: they form the basis of the research. Right now our priority is to get our methodology straight with samples we could potentially replicate if anything goes wrong. Wouldn’t want your sample from the US to be flushed down the sink, right?

If anything, we will keep you up to date on this blog with any results as well as the progress regarding the Caribbean adventures. Also, please get in touch if you would you like to contribute to our global project or if you have any questions!

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