In September we spent one week at Friday Harbor Labs collecting data on mussel poop and microplastics. I was lucky enough to bring three undergrads from University of Washington with me and share my love of marine biology and experiments.
Our week in numbers: In total, we worked over 300 hours, completed 132 trials (with 4 parts each), played 18 holes of disc golf, and learned 1 or 2 things about mussels and microplastics.
“Wait, I’m making my last poop measurement. Then we can go disc golfing”
“You’re such a good pooper!”
“Can I just leave my poops lying around while we are gone?”
**Undergrad airdrops picture of mussel poop at 11pm because it is beautiful**
In May (2019) I headed out to Tatoosh Island to collect mussels for five more sites. More importantly, I headed out to help one of my my old undergrad advisors, Dr. Tim Wootton, with some miscellaneous things on the island, mainly be a 3rd person to carry everything up the stairs. Lucky for me, it is a beautiful place and rich in ecological history.
Tatoosh Island is a historical place for marine ecology. The island is located in the Makah Nation off the coast of NW Washington state. It is <0.5 square miles, and home to animals like otters, mussels, sea stars and researchers during summer months! Tatoosh is the birthplace of “Keystone Species” (coined by Dr. Robert Paine) and has some of the longest lasting data series in the world. It was a joy to revisit a place a called home for a summer and get back in the field.
I collected mussels from five historic sites on Tatoosh to quantify microplastic contamination on a fine scale. I am currently analyzing the mussels and microplastics now!
Tatoosh is in a unique location where currents converge and is a refuge to animals. Similarly, it also acts as a refuge to floating trash! While out there I noticed a large amount of trash accumulated on the beaches– I spent my free time cleaning it up. I now have several bags of “Tatoosh Trash” in the lab that are waiting to be quantified!
This year I mentored undergraduates for the first time, each doing a unique research project. While they are all doing microplastics work, they were able to take the research in a new direction, asking questions unique to them. I had the pleasure of mentoring them through conducting research, gathering data, analyzing, and presenting a poster in front of an audience.
Anthony Abruzzini researched and presented his work exploring if marine microplastic research had a similar growth trajectory as news sources and twitter posts. He found that marine microplastic research is doubling faster than news articles and even research on climate science! (That explains why it feels like I can’t keep up with new studies!) Further, he identified that research and news about marine microplastics focus on different species- research tends to focus on small, model organisms while news focuses on larger megafauna and economically important species.
Louise Sutters researched the distribution of microplastics in the Salish Sea through analyzing contamination in marine mussels. Over the 10 sites she looked at, she found that microplastics were least abundant in Neah Bay. Further, she found no relationship between urban population size, marina size, or basin residency time and the quantity of microplastics found. Sites differed in contamination, but also type and color of microplastic– fibers were most prevalent across all sites and clear was the most abundant color.
Over a long weekend in May (2019) I travelled to Julien, CA to test microplastic contamination in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds. While there, I 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.
Over the course of my stay in Julien I drove 600 miles along twisting roads to access different points along the rivers. It certainly made me thankful I normally work along coast lines and easy to access ocean!
I will study microplastics at Volcan Mountain in the Spring of 2019. I hope to give residents of Southern California a stronger connection to their environment through teaching them about anthropogenic pollution in their backyard. To do so, I will conduct a short citizen science experiment, collecting water and dirt samples from the watershed to quantify the amount of microplastic found in different habitats around Volcan Mountain.
I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to expanding my microplastic research into terrestrial and freshwater environments.
The Seattle Science Slam is an event every month that allows local scientists to explain their research to the community, in a public and welcoming space. I spoke about how microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment how the average Pacific Northwesterner is contributing to the problem, and what actions we can take. If you’re interested, my talk can be found here.
In collaboration with Puget Soundkeeper I presented my research on microplastic contamination in the Salish Sea and how it affects marine mussel filtration rates at their Pint Sized Science event. My talk, as well as one from NOAA (Nir Barnea), one from an undergrad at PSU (Marlowe Moser), and a final one from Puget Soundkeeper (Connie Sullivan), was given at Cascade Coffee Works in downtown Seattle, WA and open to the public.
I gave a talk on my research on The impacts of microplastic on the filter feeding of marine bivalves at WSN this year in Tacoma, WA. This year, the conference held a special section on microplastics, which I was stoked to be a part of.
I am a fourth-year graduate student at University of Washington in the Department of Biology, co-advised by Dr. Emily Carrington (Biology) and Dr. Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño (School of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences).
My research focuses on how microscopic plastic impacts filtration rate of mussels, contamination levels in the Salish Sea, and public policy approaches to mitigation.