Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic less than 5mm across in size. An estimated 28 million tonnes of plastics end up in the oceans every year.
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Plankton, Plastics and Poo for GCSE Science introduces students to the pioneering research on the impact of microplastics on the marine ecosystem. This resource brings cutting edge science to the classroom.
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To gather evidence for their work, the research team needed to go into the field to collect samples. These samples were then brought back to the lab for analysis. In the case of researching plastic and plankton, the field research involved heading out to sea on a sailboat and collecting samples from the surface waters of the ocean.
To collect microplastics from the surface of the ocean, the team trawl using a neuston net. These nets act like a sieve going through the surface waters of the ocean, collecting plankton, plastic and any other small items that might be there. The mesh of the net is very thin, so that these tiny plastics and animals are caught.
To collect microplastics from the sea, the research team trawl a net through the surface waters. Trawling normally refers to a type of fishing, but is also used by scientists to collect samples from the ocean.
At the end of a neuston net is a container, called the cod end. This collects all the samples during the trawl. One of the researchers is seen here emptying the samples collected during a trawl for initial analysis and logging the data.
The cod end is emptied and filtered with clean water to collect the microplastic. Anything that’s not microplastic is removed and stored so it can be disposed of in a more sustainable way.
The cod end is emptied and filtered with clean water to collect the microplastic.
The plastics in the residue are measured and recorded. Any piece larger than 5mm isn’t included as it’s not a microplastic.