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Community Conversations: Skidaway Scientist On a Mission to Measure Ocean Microplastics

Microplastics.

At University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on Skidaway Island, scientists are studying many aspects of ocean life including microplastics, which are bits of plastic smaller than five millimeters and not really visible to the naked eye. For Jay Brandes, Professor of Chemical Oceanography, his latest Sea Grant study began with a question.

“I wondered how much microplastic was there out here in the sand and in the estuaries and was it getting into the local organisms,” said Dr. Brandes. “What we’ve found and what a lot of other people are finding is that one of the major micro-plastics that you find out there are microfibers. These come from clothing, these come from sheets, they come from coats. The materials that we make our clothing out of nowadays have a lot of plastic in them. Those wash out of your clothing and they are small. These are fibers that you typically have to look at under a microscope to see.”

“In almost every small fish that we sampled we found a few microfibers in their guts,” he continued. “The next question is well what sort of harm can these things do? And it’s not clear if they’re doing any harm at all. We’re not finding fish with their stomachs packed with microfibers. These are pretty flexible little things and it’s hard to tell if it’s causing any sort of real problems.”

Hear more about Dr. Brandes’ research into microfibers and microplastics in our extended conversation here: http://n.pr/2iys1Rq

And learn more about the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography at http://www.skio.usg.edu