On YouTube: Plastics - "We're The Problem, But We're The Solution. Be The Change"
Research - News

Buffalo, NY, April 19, 2020 - For years people have worried about the environmental impacts from plastics left behind in the oceans and Great Lakes. More recently, though, projects like one funded by New York Sea Grant have brought attention to microplastics, small plastic particles that have found their way into our waterways.

Investigators sought to answer a few key questions: How long does it take for common plastics to degrade in the water? What pollutants might be hitchhiking on the outer surfaces of these circulating, cast-off polymers?

You can find more information about this research in two related NYSG stories:

(1) Tiny organisms in the water eating plastic: Could it harm us all?

(2) Plastics floating in the water: What are the risks?

In the video clip below, "Be The Change," two students from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia introduce us to some of the researchers studying marine debris and microplastics. They include Sherri "Sam" Mason, a chemist now at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College; and Courtney Wigdahl-Perry, a biologist at the SUNY Fredonia.

“In 2004 ... I started co-teaching a course,” said Mason. “Ninety percent of the plastic that we captured that first year was in Lake Erie and a high number of those plastic particles were small, round, spherical microbeads that we were able to tie to these consumer products.” 

“We're interested in finding out about how these plastics in Lake Erie affect the base of the food web,” said Wigdahl-Perry. “So things like the algae that grow there and then, in particular, the animals that feed on algae called zooplankton. And so they're really, really tiny. And they are an important food source for a lot of fish. A lot of zooplankton feed by filtration. And so the idea is that we don't understand yet how these small particles might affect their ability to eat food and grow and then become that important source for the next level up in the food web.”

“The concern really here is, is that plastic, as they’re in the water, they pick up these chemicals,” said Mason. “These chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors. So they mimic hormones in the body and hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. They tell the body what to do and when to do it and why. So when you start messing with those chemical messengers, it affects so many things.”

“I think the biggest thing [is] the realization that all of the plastics that we find in the Great Lakes ultimately come from us,” continued Mason. “So that means that we're the problem. But the nice thing about that also means that we're the solution. So, be the change.”

“If everybody can just kind of control what they're throwing away or think about what they're throwing away or using it would be a huge, huge help,” said Kameron Dry, a research assistant.

More Info: New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York (SUNY), is one of 34 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program.

Since 1971, NYSG has represented a statewide network of integrated research, education and extension services promoting coastal community economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

Through NYSG’s efforts, the combined talents of university scientists and extension specialists help develop and transfer science-based information to many coastal user groups—businesses and industries, federal, state and local government decision-makers and agency managers, educators, the media and the interested public.

The program maintains Great Lakes offices at Cornell University, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Oswego and the Wayne County Cooperative Extension office in Newark. In the State's marine waters, NYSG has offices at Stony Brook University in Long Island, Brooklyn College and Cornell Cooperative Extension in NYC and Kingston in the Hudson Valley.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links. NYSG offers a free e-list sign up via www.nyseagrant.org/nycoastlines for its flagship publication, NY Coastlines/Currents, which is published quarterly. Our program also produces an occasional e-newsletter,"NOAA Sea Grant's Social Media Review," via its blog, www.nyseagrant.org/blog.

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