Plastic debris in the marine environment has become an issue of global concern. While media attention has been drawn to macro-plastic debris accumulating in oceanic gyres and on coasts, or causing damage to wildlife, the insidious effects of micro-plastics go relatively unnoticed, as largely unseen, small particles (<1 mm, but as small as 5µm) have become ubiquitous in the marine environment over just a few decades. Moreover, it is becoming apparent that this may have consequences for marine ecosystems and humans. Plastic has been found in culinary sea salt in Asia, and shellfish are exposed to risks from micro-plastic debris through disruption of feeding by physical blockage of digestive tracts or through absorption. Mussels (Mytilus edulis) can absorb particles to soft tissues, and shellfish consumers could be exposed to substantial numbers of particles per year in their diet.
Further risks may arise from substances associated with plastic which may have impacts on the organisms which consume them. For example, Bisphenol-A and phthalates have oestrogen-like properties and are used as components of plastic packaging. Plastic debris can adsorb persistent organic pollutants present in the environment (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls- PCBs) and act as potential vectors into the food chain. This unexplored area may, be contributing to the failure of stocks of native oysters (Ostrea edulis) in Southern Britain and elsewhere.
At present society has very little scientific knowledge of the uptake of micro-plastics into the human food chain or the risks involved.
This project aims to:
-evaluate the amounts of plastic material entering the human food chain from widely-used marine resources (e.g. salt, seafood).
-investigate the spatial dimensions of this issue, by sampling from across the UK and beyond via field sampling, and through the food industry
-explore the risks with stakeholders in industries reliant on the ecosystems where these materials are accumulating.
We are seeking to recruit a well-qualified graduate with a background in, for example environmental science, environmental chemistry or marine ecology.
The successful candidate will study for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment. To formally apply go to:
This is a fully funded (at EU/UK level) PhD supported by the Leverhulme Trust “Understanding Maritime Futures” Doctoral Scholarship Scheme. The deadline for applications is the 4th February 2016.
Contact Dr Malcolm Hudson, Associate Professor in Environmental Sciences, for an informal discussion or to notify of an application: [email protected]