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Microplastics = Macroproblem

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Two classifications of microplastics exist: primary microplastics are intentionally manufactured to be micro-sized and are a direct result of human material and product use, the best example being the microbeads found in toothpaste and facial scrubs, and secondary microplastics are plastic fragments derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris. This could be a fragment from a water bottle or a fiber from your shirt. 

As mentioned previously, media and research tend to be focused on larger plastic items. It's no secret that our mega fauna suffer greatly due to our consumerism with entanglement, ingestion, or suffocation as a result of our need for convenience. In contrast, microplastics do not appear nearly as menacing, being all micro-sized and innocent looking... but it must be considered that these particles are available to a much wider range of species from fish, to birds, to plankton, and to you; a good Samaritan that didn't ask for this! 

It has been seen in various…

Why I study garbage

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So what am I doing and why on this great green blue Earth am I doing it? Why does it matter? Well, let me tell you! :D
It's no secret that plastic pollution is a problem. We see the pictures of the penguins tangled in those soda rings, or turtles caught in fishing net...we go to the beach and find plastic debris, both micro and macro, washed ashore to mingle with the sea shells and dance with our toes. Plastic pollution has certainly acquired much attention; The Ocean Cleanup project, for instance, has aims to extract plastic pollution from the ocean and "estimates to be able to clean up 50 % of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years’ time..." but I will personally remain skeptical until I see an environmental assessment.
A rant for another time.
But it's important that people have begun to pay attention to the consequences of our consumerism. 
So what do we know so far, and what implications can we draw from that knowledge?

Microplastics may allow th…

Ker-plunk!

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Microplastic incubations have (mostly) been deployed! 
First obstacle: the weather
Second obstacle: unreliable weather forecasts

For fun, just add water

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As we prepare our incubations, we consider our options for a site for deployment. It has been recently noted in literature that island series' act as hot spots for plastic accumulation, making the Bocas del Toro Research Station a great location to conduct this work. 

What luck to have this platform only 50m from our dock here at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. This platform has many of the latest and greatest sensors attached that monitor several parameters every five minutes such as water temperature, salinity, pH, chlorophyll fluorescence, dissolved oxygen...this list goes on! We've been given permission to set up our in situ incubations off this platform, and the data that inherently comes with this spot are sure to enhance our work (and the view isn't too bad either). 
May such fortune continue to smile upon us. :)

Phthalate and plankter reporting in

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So, we made it to Bocas del Toro, Panamá! And so did all of our equipment and supplies.

And now starts our two-month adventure filled with dives/snorkeling to set up our in-situ incubations and sampling, DNA prep, microscopy, and horrible quotes/inside jokes. Oh man, such hard work.

Everything eventually ends up in the ocean...

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Hello! My name is Kassandra Dudek and I'm a PhD student at Arizona State University studying environmental life science. The environment of interest is no big deal and only covers 71% of our planet, contains 97% of our water, and 99% of living space, and that is of course the ocean (Yes, I study the ocean while living in the desert).
I, along with my lab mate, good friend, and sanity supervisor Bianca Cruz, will be traveling to Bocas del Toro, Panama to study microplastics, and our tears journey shall be documented here.



So a little backstory...


Microplastics, plastic particles smaller than 5 mm, are emerging marine pollutants. Because of their abundance in almost every marine habitat around the globe and their long residence time, it is of significance to understand their impact on marine habitats and the life that resides there. Microplastics are readily ingested by high-level marine biota and can also serve as a pelagic habitat for microorganisms, potentially carrying fouling mi…