Huge topic, tiny focus: Seattle Aquarium hosts Microplastics Monitoring Workshop

Group of participants posing outside of the Seattle Aquarium
Participants on Day 2 of the Microplastic Monitoring Workshop.

 

Microplastics, microplastics everywhere—or so the news says. But just what is the extent of the problem in Puget Sound and the greater Pacific Northwest region?

To start answering this question, the Seattle Aquarium recently hosted the first Microplastics Monitoring Workshop in the greater Pacific Northwest, and invited local and regional experts to join us and share knowledge, insights and strategies about their microplastics efforts.

The workshop was organized in response to an overwhelming call for standardization of sampling methods and harmonization among research efforts in the microplastics research and monitoring community—so the Aquarium stepped in to convene the community and facilitate these much-needed conversations. The workshop’s goals were to build a microplastics community in the Pacific Northwest, facilitate a large-scale understanding of microplastics in the region, and to discuss standardization of sampling methods and contamination reduction protocols.

 

Workshop in session in Seattle Aquarium classroom
Director of Conservation Programs and Partnerships Dr. Erin Meyer facilitating the workshop.

 

On October 1 and 2, over 35 microplastics researchers, students, volunteers and government representatives from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia gathered to share their microplastics research activities, monitoring efforts and results. The presentations and discussions major themes of quality control and contamination management; and sampling methods for tissue (such as muscle, blood and poop), water and sediment (such as sand, dirt and mud). Presenters included Dr. Susanne Brander from Oregon State University; Dr. Kim Parsons from NOAA; Dr. Elise Granek from Portland State University; Dr. Peter Hodum from University of Puget Sound; Julie Masura and her students, Alex Tellez and Abby Deaton, from University of Washington Tacoma and the Center for Urban Waters; Stephanie Wang from Ocean Wise at the Vancouver Aquarium; and the Seattle Aquarium’s own microplastics research assistants, Laura La Beur and Lindsey Damazo.

 

Dr. Elise Granek of Portland State University presents her students’ work and what they’re doing to reduce contamination of the mussel and clam samples they process.
Dr. Elise Granek of Portland State University presents her students’ work and what they’re doing to reduce contamination of the mussel and clam samples they process.

 

Dr. Kim Parsons of NOAA presenting work investigating the microplastics and estrogen hormone mimic compounds of orca poop.
Dr. Kim Parsons of NOAA presenting work investigating the microplastics and estrogen hormone mimic compounds of orca poop.

 

Seattle Aquarium's microplastics research assistant Laura La Beur presents our microplastics monitoring efforts and results.
Seattle Aquarium's microplastics research assistant Laura La Beur presents our microplastics monitoring efforts and results.

 

The outcomes of the workshop were a resounding plea for the inclusion of community science in microplastics monitoring discussions, as well as a call for working groups in the region to continue moving these conversations around standardization of sampling forward until the group can meet again—next year, it’s hoped.

Goals for moving forward include:

  • Sustain communication among the community; hold annual meetings to discuss current knowledge and create future plans.
  • Increase participation of community science programs (this involves creating and providing protocols that ensure collected data is scientifically relevant).
  • Create four working groups to develop topic-specific protocols and guidelines for quality assurance/quality control; community science; tissue sampling; and water/sediment sampling.
  • Produce and publish a workshop summary to be shared with participants as well as the greater community.

Moving forward and building on the success of this first workshop, working groups will meet to come up with standard methods within each area. The next time many attendees will meet to discuss methods and results will be in a special session on microplastics monitoring at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (SSEC) held in Vancouver B.C. next April.

 

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