How microscopes and trashbags have been keeping us busy

By Lone Mokkenstorm, Lucia Guaita and Froukje Lots, BSc students at Leiden University.

It’s already our 4th week in the Caribbean, and we’ve gotten quite some work done! Long days of microscope work in the lab have provided us with the results of 14 beaches across the Caribbean, and we’ve been working hard on our new side project too.

How many plastics do you think we found on average in 50 grams of sand from this fine beach on St. Barths?

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The right answer is: 14 pieces of plastic! Most of the plastic we find under the microscope are fibres, but sometimes we find some other interesting plastic pieces as well:

And then there’s our side project: every five days, we hike to Zeelandia Beach and clean up all meso (5-25 mm) or macro (>25 mm) debris (also called “garbage”) we can find. It’s not a pretty job, especially not if the sun is shining bright on our heads and the sand is burning our feet, but it’s interesting what we find every time. The aim is to try and understand at which rate waste accumulates on the beach and what it consists of: is it mainly marine debris stranded on the shore, or garbage from the nearby dump that washed down from the cliff?

It’s ironic that, in the end, we have to bring the stuff we found to the dump anyway: there is a recycling plant on the island, but it hasn’t been functional ever since they put it in place. When walking to Zeelandia, you can see piles of lonely recycling bins, waiting to be used… It shows that whatever the outcomes of our research will be, the core of solving the micro- and macroplastic problems should be addressing and solving political and financial issues first.

Thanks for reading. We will keep you posted!

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