Image courtesy of Dr Ceri Lewis.
Dr Ceri Lewis returned this week from the Galapagos Islands where she was researching the impact of macro and micro plastics alongside her team from the University of Exeter. Dr Lewis was the recipient of the 2018 Ralph Brown Expedition Award, which gives researchers working in aquatic environments the opportunity to receive £12,500 support for an expedition.
Working closely with the Galapagos Conservation Trust, who initially approached Dr Lewis to carry out research on the islands, the team sourced 17 samples from different locations across the volcanic archipelago. They focused on beaches and marine environments, carrying out sea surface trawls, sediment grabs and taking samples from invertebrates.
Despite the Galapagos being the most protected region on the planet, the team were saddened to find visible macro plastics such as water bottles in many areas. On one beach, they discovered 156 plastic bottle lids in just 25 metres of sand line. The Galapagos authorities are intending to ban plastic bottles completely next year, and are currently researching how local people and tourists will best be able to access safe drinking water. The team are still waiting for the samples they gathered to arrive in Exeter, where they will be analysed, and then a full set of results will be published.
Micro plastics were also detected on many of the beaches and in much of the water the team tested. These are more likely to have originated further away, and the team will be working with oceanographic modellers to determine where these plastics are likely to have come from, based on ocean current patterns.
Dr Lewis said that “whilst these initial findings are deeply concerning, they also pose an opportunity to make real change. We should also remember that many of the beaches in the Galapagos remain pristine and it is still an absolutely beautiful and inspiring part of the world.”
Speaking about the funding her team received through the Society’s Ralph Brown Expedition Award, she added:
“The grant has kick-started something critically important. None of this could have happened without the funding and we were delighted to see that there was a flurry of local interest as well as engagement with local schools.”
You can view an ITV News report that featured the team’s work here.
You can also keep up to date with our grants programme here.