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Mainland research on microplastic’s threat goes offshore to Puerto RicoMainland research on microplastic’s threat goes offshore to Puerto Rico

SADM #84 May/Jun 2019

Scuba Dogs Society, Ana Trujillo, Marine Biologist

Mississippi State University’s Extension Program works with local NGO Scuba Dogs Society to train citizen scientist on how to monitor microplastics in sand or water and report data on a way it can promote better public health and political decisions based on evidence.

Located in the limits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico, territory of the United States since 1898, started a scientific registry of microplastic’s threat pollution on its magnificent coastline and world-renowned beaches.

With the help of two environmental scientist from Mississippi State University’s Extension Program, the local organization Scuba Dogs Society (SDS) trained 30 citizen scientists on its Microplastic Monitoring Protocol. This constitute the first time the magnitude of microplastics contamination on this busy route and strategic world location will be measured. Considering all the debris that the massive category 5 hurricane Maria removed on the area in 2017, may also be a good timing, said Ana Trujillo, marine biologist and SDS executive director.

According to Amanda “Mandy” Sartain and Sarah Cunningham, Extension Program Associate and Extension Program Assistant at Mississippi State University (MSU), respectively, this is a remarkable step. “We are very excited to have this opportunity to expand our outreach when it comes to citizen science microplastic’s threat monitoring. Microplastics are a large pollution problem in the Gulf of Mexico, and citizen scientists have an important role in helping us gather the data needed to tackle this pollution issue. We want to take the knowledge gained from our marine debris monitoring projects and pass them along so others can learn and create programs of their own,” both scientists explained.

The first official monitoring period on Puerto Rico started on Earth Day 2019, April 22nd and repeated monthly for five more months until the International Coastal Cleanup to be held on September 21st, 2019 in more than 100 countries and several states of the USA.

In Puerto Rico, SDS has celebrated the International Coastal Cleanup since 2004 removing tons of trash from the coasts of Puerto Rico, including beaches, rivers, lakes and creeks.

There were 30 project captains trained to lead and perform microplastic’s threat monitoring and data recollection in Puerto Rico using the Mississippi State University Extension Services’ protocol. The guidelines have been applied already in the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida, on a joint effort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Sea Grant Mississippi-Alabama, and Dauphin Island Sea Lab of Alabama, sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance – Gulf Star Program.

“Forty years has passed since scientific found and reported the presence of small plastic particles in the ocean waters for the first time and unfortunately we still don’t have enough scientific information on this specific type of pollution in Puerto Rico’ coastline. That’s why this research is as important as novel,” stated SDS’s executive director. Trujillo thanked Dr. Maia McGuire, Florida Sea Grant Agent for University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for all the technical support.

The marine biology student Natalie Hernández, responsible for the SDS’s A Toda Costa coastal cleaning program, added that this will be an ongoing research that will last for years to come and the findings will lead to the promotion of better public policies based on evidence. “Initially the program will monitor 15 beaches in cities like Cabo Rojo, Carolina, Fajardo, Arecibo, Humacao, Ponce and Isabela, a well-known destination for surfers. Anybody can become a citizen scientist and become part of the solution of this historical effort to save our planet,” said Hernández.

What are microplastics? Microplastics are plastic pieces smaller than 5 millimeters, which is about the width of a pencil eraser. They come in different forms, including microbeads, microfilms, microfibers, and microfragments. Many microplastics start out as larger plastic products (plastic water bottles, beach toys, or large fishing nets) that get broken up over time. Some begin as intentionally small plastics for cosmetic purposes (beads in face exfoliants, toothpaste). Microplastics have been found all over the ocean.

Not sure if it’s a microplastic?

  • Plastics will often be colorful.
  • Squeeze test! If you cannot tell if a particle is plastic, use your fine-tip tweezers to squeeze the particle. If it squishes apart, then it is most likely not plastic; plastic will keep its shape or bounce back to its shape.
  • Only count what you are confident IS a microplastic.
  • Have two to three people look at the filter and microplastics. Having different eyes look and count will result in the most accurate results.

Contacts:  Aurora Rivera Arguinzoni – (787) 342-4241 // Maricelis Rivera Santos – (787) 615-2876

Scuba Dogs Society (SDS): is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental protection in Puerto Rico since 1993, when it was known as the Enrique Martí Coll Foundation. In 2007, its current name was introduced. It has been timely to achieve changes in social behavior on the protection of resources through projects such as International Coastal Cleaning. Through action, we educate and commit the community to keep our natural resources clean and healthy.

#salud #saludaldia #saludaldiamagaz #saludaldiamagazine #puertorico #sds #Scubadogssociety

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