A team of researchers including Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, has been shortlisted for a prestigious award.
The researchers, also including Professor Tamara Galloway and colleagues at the University of Exeter and Dr Penelope Lindeque from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, are in the running for a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Impact Award.
The shortlisting recognises the substantial benefit their pioneering work to establish the causes and effects of microplastics within the marine environment has provided for society.
Professor Thompson, also Director of the Marine Institute, published a seminal research paper in Science in 2004, which included the first mention of the term microplastics in its current context.
He and Professor Galloway received joint funding from the Leverhulme Trust to look in more depth at the effect tiny pieces of plastic could be having on marine life, as well as a number of separate funding grants from NERC and other research councils.
Working with marine scientists and psychologists, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students, Professor Thompson has since been instrumental in several other key studies on this topic demonstrating:
- 700 marine species are known to encounter litter in the environment, the vast majority with plastic, and many of these encounters either harmful or fatal;
- Facial scrubs could contain up to 2.8 million microbeads, which was one of the key pieces of evidence that convinced the UK government to legislate against their use in wash-off cosmetics;
- The first evidence of substantial accumulation of microplastic in the deep sea;
- The first evidence of microplastics in the Arctic;
- A single wash load of acrylic clothing can release 700,000 microfibres.
The research has helped to raise awareness about the pervasive issue of microplastics among the public and the academic community, and has seen the academics advising on the seminal BBC series Blue Planet II.