Right as Rain, UW medicine blog

Read about plastic pollution, where it comes from, where it goes, and what we can do. In the middle of a pandemic and human rights movement, it’s hard to think about anything else, however, we must keep learning and moving forward. This article compiles a lot of information succinctly.

QUICK READ 

Life in plastic, not fantastic

  • Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters long.
  • Nanoplastics are even smaller at less than 100 nanometers in length.
  • People can ingest and inhale these plastic particles from food, water and air.
  • Researchers are studying whether the plastic pieces and toxicants on them can harm your health.
  • To help the problem, think about buying less single-use plastic and supporting sustainable businesses.

Seattle Children’s Film Festival

I was invited to present and host a Q&A for Microplastic Madness, a feature film at the Seattle Children’s Film Festival. The theater was packed with all ages, ready to learn about how a 5th grade class in Brooklyn, NY is tackling the plastic problem.

I can honestly say that this is one of the best and informative films I have ever seen. Cafeteria Culture, an organization focused on engaging youth to achieve zero waste, produced this film with students from P.S. 15 Brooklyn 5th graders. The film is traveling around the United States as part of the Children’s film festival circuit– definitely check it out if it is coming to a city near you!

The students did a phenomenal job explaining the ins and outs of plastic pollution, from the production to consumer sides. The took the viewer along for field trips, class experiments, and even to City Hall to speak with Mayor de Blasio. These students enacted real change in their school, their homes, and even across New York City.

As part of introducing the film, I was asked some questions leading up to the showing. You can find my interview here.

Ocean Sciences Meeting

I attended and presented my work on how microplastics impact the benthic-pelagic coupling role of marine mussels in February in San Diego, CA. This conference was by far the largest one I have been too. I presented in one of three(!) sessions focusing on microplastics, also a new experience for me.

3rd graders and plastic

I participated as an invited speaker for the 2020 Action Network Speaker Series on plastic. I had the opportunity to teach 3rd graders at Chautauqua Elementary School on Vashon Island about marine biology, how different marine organisms ingest microplastics, and how microplastics can pass through different ocean habitats and trophic levels.

Selfie with 3rd graders on Vashon Island. So much energy and enthusiasm!

The 3rd graders were several decades younger than my usual audience and it was a fun challenge to create a single interactive & hands-on activity that spanned multiple concepts. Some students acted out roles as orcas and sea lions while others were worms and mussels. I’ll let you guess which animals they were more excited by!

Western Society of Naturalists

This year, WSN was held in Ensenada, Mexico. On the beach. Needless to say, it was a wonderful “work” trip. I earned Best Student Presentation for Community/Ecosystem Ecology!!

Presenting on how microplastics can impact the benthic-pelagic coupling role of mussels

I took advantage of the wonderful and warm location to travel down there early to get some beach and ocean time in. On Halloween, a group of us (6, never met before, all there for WSN) went SCUBA diving at two boat-access sites. It. Was. Phenomenal. Diving this trip, I was able to experience a lot of “firsts” — I dove in a kelp forest, saw mussels [pooping] underwater, and a sea hare! I even got to swim with my study system!

Me, SCUBA diving in Ensenada with my study system– pictured here as a plastic water bottle

Volcan Mountain presentation

I presented my work on at Second Chance Brewery on quantifying microplastic contamination in the San Diego watersheds. Over the past few months I have been digesting, sorting, and analyzing microplastics from my trip to the San Diego region in May. Broadly, I found microplastic contamination differed between site both in quantity as well as type. Volcan Mountain Foundation, San Dieguito River Valley Conservency, and San Diego River Park Foundation did a phenomenal job attracting participants. Below is the abstract from my talk.

Title: Mciroplastic contamination across an urban gradient in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds

The Volcan Mountain Range Watershed is a key water source for San Diego and its water flows directly to the Pacific Ocean. It is vital to understand how the presence of microplastic in mountain watersheds can alter the dependent downstream communities. Over a long weekend in May (2019) Lyda travelled to Julien, CA to test microplastic contamination in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds. Over the course of her stay in Julien she drove 600 miles along twisting roads to access different points along the rivers. While there, Lyda met several volunteers that helped me sample water in eight different sites across the two watersheds, including the headwaters (in the mountains) and mouths (Pacific ocean) of both rivers. Through citizen science and outreach, participants received hands on experience with biology and pollution science. There were meaningful discussions with both local populations and urban communities about working collectively to find sustainable solutions to anthropogenic pollutants. In addition to watershed samples, tap water was also sampled to get an idea of human ingestion levels in the area. Back in Seattle, Lyda fully processed the samples, identified plastics under a microscope, and characterized types of debris. Facilitating discussions with local community members creates more environmentally aware populations and future generations, which in turn will create policies and behaviors that foster better stewardship of our resources.

Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association

I presented my research at PCSGA in Portland, Oregon in September on analyzing microplastic contamination in the Salish Sea across an urban gradient. My research spans public, private, and tribal lands across Western Washington. It was wonderful to meet other members of the community, especially rad women working on shellfish!