By Samantha Zenger
Highschool Ambassador (DPPF)
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, microplastics are defined as being, “small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long.” These particles are especially known for being harmful to ocean and aquatic life around the globe. Microplastics in the ocean attract many toxins to their surface causing large concentrations of chemicals. Those chemicals include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Even a very low exposure to both PCBs and POPs for both humans and animals is linked to causing cancer, reproductive issues, changed immune systems, neurobehavioral impairment, increased birth defects and the list goes on. To the average marine animal, plastics look very similar to bright and colorful food, when they are consumed in large concentrations, they bioaccumulate and clog their digestive system eventually causing them to starve to death. One of the most abundant types of plastic seen around the globe is nurdles. The chemicals that are attracted to the nurdles and all plastics do not break down, they permanently become a part of the micro plastic.
The ecosystem in Deception Pass is no exception to the harmful effects of microplastics. Accidental spills can happen wherever nurdles are handled or transported. This could be at any stage of the industrial process; from the production of nurdles, to their transport, to the manufacturers of plastic products and then again when goods are recycled back into nurdles. The then spilled nurdles are carried through the currents of the ocean.
For my capstone project I have chosen to focus on the microplastics that can be found around the different beaches around Deception Pass State Park. The Deception Pass Park foundation has purchased a microplastics filtration system from Sea Turtles Forever, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization founded by Marc and Rachel Ward, that researches and monitors endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica and also focuses on the effects of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. The system designed by this organization, “uses patented static charged filtration (SCF) technology to remove microplastics as small as 100 micrometers in size,” (Sea Turtles Forever). This system will not only assist us in removing the smaller chunks of plastics that are on the beaches but the micro plastics that are more difficult to clean up. We plan on collecting samples of micro plastics from beaches around the park to compare the distribution of plastics. On the most visited beach, West Beach, we will collect frequent samples from larger portions of the beach to see how much has been collected over the summer. In doing this in a high traffic area we hope to see interest from some of the 3 million people that visit Deception Pass State Park annually.
By the end of this coming summer, I will have collected enough data around the park to present to the public as a featured speaker in the park to discuss the findings from over the summer. My goal in doing this is to educate and demonstrate to the public how our plastic consumption affects our beautiful local ecosystem. While my sphere of influence is not large as an individual, my voice is still vital when seeking out societal changes in consumer habits when it comes to the use of plastics. My hope is that by spreading awareness to many of the millions of people that visit my local community that there is a chance that they too will be inspired enough to enact change.