Researcher studies plastic pollution in Bermudan Islands

Date: 13 July 2017

Introduction: UAntwerp researcher Camille C. Carteny studies plastic pollution in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

Camilla C. CartenyIn recent years, the issue of plastic pollution – particularly in the oceans – has started to be under the spotlight, not exclusively among scientists, but also in mainstream media. Marine biologist and UAntwerp PhD student Camilla C. Carteny will conduct a sampling campaign in the Bermudan islands, on a state-of-the-art solar-powered catamaran.

“Indiscriminate littering and poor waste management cause an endless stream of plastic to enter our waterways, and, ultimately, to reach our oceans”, says Camille C. Carteny, marine biologist and PhD student in the SPHERE research group at the University of Antwerp. “While in the water, larger plastic items break down in smaller particles, called microplastics (MPs). These particles enter the food chain, carrying toxic chemicals to the organisms who ingest them.” The occurrence and hazard of MPs are not yet completely understood, and scientists are trying to determine the levels of contamination and the risk for exposed organisms.

To contribute to this ongoing research Camilla C. Carteny is traveling to Bermuda thanks to a collaboration between her EU-funded project EPHEMARE and the charity Race for Water (R4W). This foundation has an ambitious mission: helping to save the oceans from the threat of plastic. Thanks to R4W’s extraordinary vessel, the Odyssey – a state-of-the-art solar-powered catamaran – Camilla and two other scientists from EPHEMARE will conduct a sampling campaign in the beautiful Bermudan islands, collecting sand, sediment, water and marine animals in search for MPs.

Hidden secret

But why Bermuda? The crystal blue waters and coral reefs are for sure beautiful enough to attract the attention, but they also hide a secret – not the infamous Bermuda triangle, but something as ominous and sadly real: the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. “Powerful currents in the oceans, such as the Gulf current, tend to circulate in opposite directions, creating a massive vortex: a gyre”, Carteny explains. “The currents act like conveyor belts, carrying the waste produced by the mainland to the sea, where it becomes trapped at the centre of the gyre, swirling continuously and breaking down into smaller particles due to the mechanical action of the waves and irradiation from the sun. Bermuda is the closest landmass to the centre of the North Atlantic gyre and its resident garbage patch, and is subject to a steady influx of MPs, making this tiny territory the ideal setting for EPHEMARE’s sampling campaign.”

Race for water
Race for water