I’m Jake Bowley, a PhD student from the University of Exeter. In collaboration with our partners at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), my research is investigating whether microplastics can act as novel surface to carry marine diseases across oceans and subsequently into marine species, specifically ones used in aquaculture. With macroplastics increasingly prevalent in all parts of the environment and predicted to triple in the next twenty years, understanding if they play a role in disease transport is an emerging area of concern.
To look at this important question, we have been using the unique condition of the Fleet Lagoon. The Fleet Lagoon has significant salinity and temperature changes across the lagoon, and this gradient in environmental conditions allows us to test whether environmental factors such as water temperature and salinity affect how harmful bacteria attach to microplastic particles. In September 2020 my supervisor, Dr Ceri Lewis, and I carried out some preliminary field work to gain insight into how these factors might influence the way in which microbes attach to plastic surfaces. To look at this we placed test microplastics (plastic pieces smaller than 1 mm) and some glass particles to simulate natural particles, into the lagoon at three different locations at Ferry Bridge, Langton Herring and Abbotsbury Swannery. We used carefully designed test systems to prevent any losses and collected these back after 24 hours and 7 days of being placed within the lagoon. These are now back at our laboratory at the University of Exeter being analysed for the presence of any harmful bacteria, such as Vibrios, that may have been attached to the surface.
This work is to give us an insight into which harmful bacteria, if any, might attach to these microplastic particles and what factors, if any, played a role in this attachment (such as the temperature or salinity of the water). This information can help inform the aquaculture sector as to what conditions to keep aquaculture species in (like mussels, shrimp, and fish) and what effect an increase in microplastic pollution may have upon the farmed organisms and perhaps passed on to humans through eating these foods. This work is ongoing. To learn more about the important plastics research that takes place at the University of Exeter you can follow us on the Exeter Marine webpages at Exeter Marine | University of Exeter.
With thanks to Jake Bowley at the University of Exeter for this report. We look forward to seeing future results from this fascinating study.
The Reserve team encourages research on Chesil and in the Fleet to help us better understand the site and improve it’s management. Anyone wishing to carry out research should contact the reserve office at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss and apply for a permit.