The final chapter of my dissertation, “Spatial–Temporal Growth, Distribution, and Diffusion of Marine Microplastic Research and National Plastic Policies,” was published in Water, Air, and Soil Pollution! This chapter was the result of a pivot during the last year of my PhD– when campus and all associated facilities shut down due to Covid-19, I was forced to put lab work on the back burner and was instead given the “opportunity” to embrace a side project as my final dissertation chapter. I completed a concentration in Public Policy and Management at the Evens School of Public Policy at UW, providing a backbone to this idea. While the paper itself does not answer all of the questions (but what paper does?) it provides insight to how incredible FAST the scientific field of marine microplastics is growing and how its growth differs from national plastic policies. Working with a massive dataset and seemingly endless questions, our results are nuanced and invite further examination.
The best part of this publication was working with an amazing team of undergraduates during data acquisition and wrangling. One particular student, Jackson Fennell, used his GIS skills to create maps and hotspot analyses. This is his FIRST academic publication and I am so proud. What an accomplishment to have undergrad work in a peer-reviewed journal!
The first publication of my job at the Aquarium as well as their first microplastic research paper is out now! An exciting story of long-term monitoring, unexpected results, and a surprising impact of Covid-19! This article was written by all women(!!!!) at different career stages including: volunteer, lab technician, master’s student, PhD student, academic faculty, and long-term conservation researcher.
Interested? Read more here! The article is open access and we hope everyone has an opportunity to at least skim it.
The publication garnered some attention from the journal and SETAC Globe highlighted our research in their publication spotlight. The piece interviews me and highlights our volunteer program– read it here!
Additionally, the I wrote a blog post for the Seattle Aquarium highlighting the study and interesting things we took away from our findings. Read more about that here!
In the late spring and early summer I had the opportunity to present my research on marine pollution to students at two different universities. In the spring I spoke to masters students in the Conservation and Restoration Science program at University of California Irvine (UCI) discussing the broader field of marine plastic pollution, how to study it, policy implications, and how difficult large scale mitigation can be. In the summer I spoke to undergraduate students taking Civilization Biology at University of Washington (UW) about the ocean, over fishing, sustainable methods, and a whole ecosystem approach to aquaculture. I love teaching and hope to have more opportunities to do so in the future.
Salish Sea Microplastic Workshop
I had the privilege to host the second annual Pacific Northwest (PNW) Microplastics Workshop (the first was held in October 2019) May 12, 2021, 9am-1pm virtually with the Seattle Aquarium. It served as an opportunity to reengage researchers and organizations in the community. The field of marine microplastics is rapidly developing, and researchers in the Pacific Northwest area have long called for regional and local communities to approach the multifaceted topic.
Unfortunately during the past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic affected peoples’ lives in a variety of ways, often isolating folks, both personally and professionally, due to lockdowns, safety, and health concerns. To reignite and strengthen community in the region, the second annual workshop was virtual and focused specifically on research done in and around the Salish Sea, Washington.
Attendees included over 50 individuals from more than 15 organizations within Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia.
Researchers gave presentations spanning four topics:
1) particles in the environment
2) organismal contamination
3) holistic and ecosystem approaches
4) regional engagement
Community resources and resource limitations were core topics that resurfaced throughout both the first and second annual PNW Microplastics Workshop presentations and discussions. The Seattle Aquarium collected information on available resources in the area for community members to use to strengthen relationships and collaborations within our community.
Hot off the press: Microplastic changes the sinking and resuspension rates of marine mussel biodeposits, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin. This is the second chapter of my PhD dissertation and work that I did with three amazing undergraduates while at UW Biology. Harsimran Gill, a co-author, was one of those undergrads and this is his first paper.
Check out the full paper here— if you are stuck behind a pay wall, send me a message and I can send you the full article.
I defended and submitted my PhD dissertation, “Marine microplastic pollution: An interdisciplinary approach to understanding the effects on organisms, ecosystems, and policy.” I officially have a PhD in Biology with a concentration in Public Policy from University of Washington!
I am now the Microplastic Postdoctoral Fellow at the Seattle Aquarium (as of October). I am thrilled to develop and expand the aquarium’s anthropogenic research program in the Salish Sea, WA. While it is a bit odd to start a job during a pandemic, I have thoroughly enjoyed the conservation programs and partnership team and all of the work I have done so far.
I am mentoring two wonderful youth leaders through Plastic Tides, an organization seeking to “inspire and catalyze action toward a plastic-free future through adventure, education, and youth empowerment.” I am mentoring John, a junior from Lima, Peru, and Naomi, a senior from New York, USA.
John is conducting a research project measuring plastic accumulation on Marquez beach, one of the most polluted beaches in Peru. He is planning to use his findings to change local policies surrounding plastic disposal and pollution in Peru.
Naomi is carrying out a series of PPE collections in New York City, in order to reduce the increased PPE pollution during Covid-19. She is planning to implement collections in her school as well as building communities.
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.
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.
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.
American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS
I attended and presented my research at AAAS February in Seattle. The format was an E-Poster, something I have never made nor presented before. It was good practice to figure out how my entire dissertation fits together in one, VERY short, 7min presentation.
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.
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!!
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!
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.
My research on mussels and microplastics is featured in this month’s (October 2019) UW Arts & Sciences Newsletter! Read about it at the link below. The pictures are a great representation of how I spend my time– in the field, in the lab, and taking selfies with massive mussels.
My new paper about microplastics and mussel clearance rate was published today! Check it out in a special issue about microplastics in Limnology and Oceanography.
If you would like to read the full paper, it is open access and can be found here:
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!
Friday Harbor Labs
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!
Undergraduate Research Symposium
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.
Volcan Mountain Experience
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!
Volcan Mountain Residency
I was awarded a residency funded by the Marjorie and Joseph Rubenson Endowment for Art and Science on Volcan Mountain, CA! WooHoo!
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.
Seattle Science Slam
I won the Seattle Science Slam #14!! Woohoo.
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.
Pint Sized Science
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.
Western Society of Naturalists
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.