The dramatic amount of large plastic material that has been introduced into our rivers, bays and oceans has been well documented, and the harm this material can cause to marine organisms is well known to conservationists. Billions of pounds of plastic have been found in about 40 percent of the world’s oceans, an amount that could outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
This pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of marine mammals such as seabirds, seals and sea turtles are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Moreover, these macro-plastics also fragment into micro-plastic particles via weathering and UV degradation. According to one report, over 99 percent of plastic that entered the ocean since 1950 has sunk below the first few hundred feet of the ocean. There are 10,000 times more microplastics on the seafloor than in the polluted surface waters.
These small particles can also interact with marine animals, especially those that filter feed. The uptake and accumulation of microplastics by filter-feeding, bottom-dwelling animals such as bivalves, is not clear. Equally unclear is whether ingestion of microplastics by filter feeders results in toxicological effects. This is the focus of Dr. Ward’s research.
In his presentation, Dr. Ward will discuss the current understanding of plastic pollution in the ocean and its interactions with marine animals. He will present his research into the capture, ingestion, rejection and elimination of microplastics by commercially important bivalves. The goal of this work is to understand uptake of microplastics by marine animals, identify a robust bioindicator for plastic particles in the ocean, and examine the potential for transfer of microplastics through the food chain.
The free program will be interactive with an opportunity for participants to ask questions. There is no charge, but space is limited and registration is required. To register, visit https://www.ctaudubon.
Professor and Head, Department of Marine Sciences, UConnDr. Ward is an experimental biologist whose research interests are directed toward an understanding of the dynamic interactions between marine animals and their environment. Using an integrative approach, he directs his students in the study of processes ranging from the organism to the ecosystem level.
He is particularly interested in the behavior and physiology of benthic, particle-feeding invertebrates. Much of his research focuses on commercially important bivalves (e.g., clams, mussels, oysters), which are key components of most coastal ecosystems. These animals provide vital ecosystem services and are an important link between oceans and human health.
About the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center:
Named for the renowned artist, scientific illustrator, environmental educator, and conservation advocate, Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is known for its work in environmental education, conservation, research, and advocacy. The center is dedicated to facilitating scientific research, establishing high-quality environmental education for children, teens and adults, and promoting outreach and advocacy to preserve, protect and conserve the estuary and its beauty for generations. From it’s 5.25-acre site on the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, the Center serves young people and adults across the region in person and virtually, offering small group programs like bird walks and owl prowls, a CT River ecological expeditions course, citizen scientist activities, vacation and summer camp programs and a curriculum-based Science in Nature program for schools in Southeastern Connecticut.
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