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On-going projects

Plastics in the Environment Research Cluster

From source to sink


Since the onset of mass production of plastics in the 1950s the flow of plastics to the marine environment has been a growing problem. Plastic contamination of the oceans is now one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns.

Each year, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean, equivalent to a full garbage truck dumped into the sea every minute*

Recent work has shown that plastics have been found from the depths of the deepest ocean trenches to tropical seas and the oceans around the ice-capped poles. Microplastic pollution (particles less than 5mm) is known to be interacting with organisms and entering the marine food chain causing a range of unidentified and unquantified ecological outcomes. Currently we have little understanding of how microplastics are conveyed through marine systems or how they interact with marine biota. The complex biological, bio-physical and bio-chemical interactions associated with the ingestion of microplastics are virtually unknown as is whether they are transferred through food webs.

Understanding how microplastics move through the marine environment, where they ultimately end up and what effects they have on organisms and marine ecosystems is critical to developing strategies for mitigation of the problem and providing scientific advice to appropriate parties.

*United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


Lead researchers

Catherine Waller

Project funded by

UoH-logo british-antarctic-survey-logo UKRI_NER_Council-Logo_Horiz-RGB

Project partners

British Antarctic Survey

South Atlantic Environmental  Research Institute (SAERI)

International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)

University of St Andrews

Newcastle University

University of W Florida

Científica del Sur University, Peru

The University of Hull Microplastics Research Group are working towards understanding ­­­some of the urgent issues caused by microplastics in the marine environment along with our partners in both the Arctic and Antarctic, the British Overseas Territories, South East Asia and the UK.  

Our academics and postgraduates are working on a wide range of topics: from modelling flows of microplastic particles through major rivers and into the oceans, how plastic changes composition when exposed to environmental conditions, the impacts of microplastics on remote and local food webs to how individual animals respond, behaviourally and physiologically, to chemicals given off by plastics as they decompose.

The cluster hosts a number of PhD researchers, covering a similarly diverse range of topics relating to microplastics in the environment.

Current PhD Researchers in the Microplastics Cluster: 

Lucrecia Alvarez

Supervisor: Chris Hackney

Quantifying and modelling global large river fluxes of microplastic


Julian Blumenroeder

Supervisor: Cath Waller

Microplastic in remote marine food webs.


Jack Buckingham

Supervisor: Cath Waller

The Ecological fate of microplastics in Antarctic marine environments - a source to sink approach.


Felicitas ten Brink

Supervisor: Bryony Caswell

Impacts of microplastic pollution on intertidal food webs.


Jessica Hurley

Supervisor: Jorg Hardege

The physiological effects of microplastic ingestion.


Freija Mendrik

The transport mechanisms of microplastics in major rivers and their surrounding coastlines: A case study in the Mekong River, SE Asia


Victoria Scott

PhD Supervisor: Jorg Hardege

The effects of multiple stressors on aquatic organisms, including plastics and climate change predictions.

The Impact

By working with local partners, international scientific bodies and governments we will raise the awareness of plastic pollution in regional waters and produce advice for legislators, and other interested bodies. Our research has already resulted in an Antarctic Treaty System resolution to reduce plastic pollution in Antarctica, a Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) working group on Plastics at the Poles which aims to co-ordinate and develop plastic research in Polar Regions in association with the European Polar Board.

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