The “MASS” project has two main objectives:
1) To monitor possible sources of microplastics to the coastal environment;
2) To find “environmentally friendly” solutions to the problem of plastic pollution.
The first objective of the project focuses on the monitorization of sources of microplastics to the coastal environment. More particularly to the Ria Formosa, in the Algarve region (Southern Portugal). Among them, I am analysing microplastics from air samples (picture 1), a source of microplastics poorly studied thus far. In parallel, I am sampling coastal waters (picture 2), to see the importance of atmospheric deposition as a source of microplastics to brackish waters .
To accomplish the second objective, I am looking for microorganisms, namely bacteria, with the potential to “biodegrade” conventional plastics (for example, polyethene, one of the most used plastics) and/or “bio-based” plastics with a biological origin (e.g. bio-based PET). In the framework of the European project PROBIOMA (ERDF-funded; CTM2015-2339), we have recovered bacterial communities from marine caves to explore their ability to biodegrade microplastics (picture 3).
Through the project, I am developing methods for the proper identification and quantification of microplastics from environmental samples (air, water, sediment), since there is still no standardized methodology for their analysis. Similarly, I am testing leading-edge methodologies (e.g. micro-FTIR, SEM) to assess the biodegradation of microplastics (picture 4).
The project also has a strong component on environmental awareness. In collaboration with other colleagues from CCMAR, I have participated in activities aimed to the general public, and more particularly to schools students. On these lines, I am currently involved in the European project “Plastic Pirates”. In this project, which was launched in the spring of 2021 in Portugal, school students collaborate with researchers to monitor plastic waste found along riverbanks across the country.
The project has the collaboration of Clara Costa, Jorge Carlier and the PhD student Tânia Palma from the ECOREACH group of CCMAR.
Plastics we do not see, but breathe
Degradation of conventional and biodegradable microplastics in the marine environment
Atmospheric deposition of microplastics in Southern Portugal