From Florida to the Mediterranean Sea via the Azores on the hunt for microplastics

Plastic represents 80% of the waste found in the sea and oceans (UNEP, 2016): an uncontrolled flow of waste that causes serious environmental problems, still not fully known. Although the percentage of plastic that ends up in the sea compared to that one produced is unknown (8.3 Gt since 1950), the control of the dispersion of plastics and microplastics in the waters is therefore a very current issue, which is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – Goals for Sustainable Development identified by the United Nations in 2015).

Sustainable Development Goal #14 is titled ” Conserving and using in a sustainable way oceans, seas and marine resources “  It applies to marine pollution through Target I (“By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine litter and nutrient pollution of water”) and Indicator 1 (“Coastal eutrophication index and density of floating plastic waste”).

In this context is inserted the project “A Sail for the Blue: Research for Oceans and Microplastics”, which is sponsored by the Universitá di Padova and has been included in the programming of the Eight Hundred Years Anniversary Celebrations. The project will be realized thanks to the collaboration with the association JANCRIS of Alfredo Giacon, which for decades has been promoting international socio-environmental missions with the most ecological and ancient means of transport in the world: the sailboat.

Starting from May 2022, and for the duration of two months, the association JANCRIS and the University of Padua will therefore be the protagonists of an ocean crossing with the main objective of sampling microplastics in the Atlantic Ocean and relate their presence with other environmental parameters.

The sailing boat will leave from Cape Canaveral (Florida) at the end of May, and through the Atlantic Ocean (approaching Bermuda and the Azores), will arrive in the Mediterranean Sea passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and finally docking in Genoa in late July.

In this journey, it is included a research program coordinated by Prof. Maria Cristina Lavagnolo of the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering of the Universitá di Padova, developed in collaboration with Prof. Laura Airoldi (Department of Biology, Universitá di Padova) and colleagues of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Life Sciences – Sea Center of the Universitá di Genova, in particular Prof. Luigi Vezzulli, marine microbiologist who will be responsible for the analysis of environmental DNA samples.

On board there will be Valentina Poli, a young researcher in Environmental Engineering at the Universitá di Padova who will sample the ocean waters according to a predefined methodology and using suitable instruments that will then allow to identify microplastics, assess the biochemical status and analyze the environmental DNA of the ocean along the route. Some of these analyses will be done directly on board, others once back on land.

The voyage will be an opportunity to test new instrumentation for both sampling during navigation and microplastic analysis in the laboratory.

The sampling of microplastics will be done by entrainment, through the use of specific instrumentation (such as Manta trawl, a fine mesh net attached to a large rectangular frame with floating wings to keep it on the surface). This sampling will be carried out daily; the sample collected will be filtered on board the boat and stored until the next analysis in the laboratory.

Sampling of environmental biochemical parameters will also occur on a daily basis, with intensified sampling along shorelines where greater variation in water-related environmental parameters is expected. Sampling will consist of an instantaneous sampling of ocean water (Niskin bottle type instrumentation) and subsequent analysis of the sample on board the vessel using a spectrophotometer and multi-parameter measurement system.

Finally, the sampling for the analysis of environmental DNA will take place daily through an instantaneous sampling of water, and a subsequent preparation of the sample on board, with the help of a pump for filtering and self-preserving filters, which will then be analyzed in the laboratory by the Universitá di Genova.

All samples collected will be georeferenced through the use of GPS technology.

During the second phase of the research, which will take place at the end of the trip, the recognition of microplastics will be done using an innovative methodology developed by the research group of Environmental Health Engineering of the University of Padua, with the collaboration of a prestigious English university institute.

Another objective of the project will be to disseminate the results through a professional documentary filmed during the crossing, in order to entrust the images with the task of generating awareness on the issue of the ocean pollution.

The project and the scientific journey of JANCRIS were presented on February 4th, 2022 during a press conference held at the Ancient Archives of Palazzo del Bo – Padua, in the presence of the director Enrico Lando, with the participation of:

Daniela Mapelli, Rector of  Università di Padova
Francesca Da Porto, Vice Deputy Rector for Susteinaible, Università di Padova
Adriana Del Borghi, Vice Deputy Rector for Sustainbility, Università di Genova
Maria Cristina Lavagnolo, project coordinator, Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering of the Universitá di Padova
Alfredo Giacon,  President of JANCRIS


Source: Universitá di Genova




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