"This Project is Rubbish!" third blog entry

“This Project is Rubbish!" is a research project focused on marine debris. It is run by the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) and funded by Project Aware. "This Project is Rubbish" aims to quantify the accumulation rates, composition and distribution of macro and micro plastics in the Overstrand region of the Western Cape of South Africa. This will achieved by completing sediment surface surveys as well as core sampling of the sediment. The project aims to develop awareness amongst the general public regarding marine debris.

 “This project is rubbish!” has continued to advance since the last blog entry. Sampling of the sediment surface for micro (less than five millimetres) and macro (equal to and greater than five millimetres) plastics has started to produce results. Since official sampling commenced we have had 10 sampling sessions, five at site one and five at site two. Over 1000 marine debris items have been collected ranging in size from those over a metre to those less than one centimetre. Of the more than 1000 debris items sampled over 90% was plastic debris. Unidentified plastic fragments (of between one and twenty millimetres) were the most commonly occurring plastic functional group. The most commonly occurring types of debris besides plastic were cigarette butts followed by glass and metal. Note, this information is based on counts only and includes both sampling sites. As mentioned previously more debris was found at site 2 in comparison to site one in terms of counts.

 Certain debris is being found regularly during sediment surface surveys and this debris is thought to come from local sources (e.g. local industry, businesses etc.). This debris includes abalone tags, black plastic water piping of 5cm in length and glow sticks. Abalone tags are thought to come from the local abalone farms in Hermanus. The black water pipe is also thought to come from abalone farms in Hermanus. The glow sticks are thought to come from local fisheries. Hopefully if enough of these items can be collected to prove that these are key pollutants that do come from local sources we can go back to those responsible for the debris and encourage them to change their ways (regarding the materials and equipment they use) and to be more considerate of the health of the environment. Obviously there are other very common pollutants including bottle caps, sweet wrappers, packaging and cigarette butts, however for these debris it is more difficult to locate their sources and understand whether their sources are local or not.

Work has been done on the second objective of the project looking at the abundance and composition of micro plastic. Eighteen core samples have been taken (nine from each site). Core samples were taken along a transect lines which run from the water’s edge to the start of the terrestrial vegetation. Now the analyses process can begin on the core samples. The process includes density separation, sieving, filtration and visual examination. More core samples will be taken in 2 months’ time and then in 2 months’ time after that to see if micro plastic abundance and composition changes through seasons.

Looking to the future sediment surface surveys will continue twice every week and core samples will be taken again in two months’ time. The analyses process for core samples is going to start. Work is still being done to create a data base to store data for the project.