What exactly is micro plastics?
Microplastics are basically just really small pieces of plastic. In science, a plastic is considered micro if it is smaller than 5mm in diameter. They are created both intentionally and accidentally.
A lot of products, such as face scrubs, cleansers and other cosmetics can often be found to have microplastics (or micro beads) in them. Thankfully a lot of countries a
re starting to ban them though! Macro plastics that are improperly discarded of can find their way into the oceans or environment, where the suns rays break down the plastic through a complicated process called ‘photodegradation’, where the bonds that hold plastic particles together are broken down, creating tiny pieces of plastic that can float endlessly in our oceans.
So what if there are small particles of plastic, how does that affect me?
People often talk about how long plastic takes to break down or decompose. But the truth is, plastic never fully breaks down, it just gets smaller. When it gets so small, it is easily ingested at all levels of the food web (from plankton to big old whales). We are not immune from this process either. The fish you find in the supermarket is likely to have ingested some plastic during it’s lifetime. Whilst the plastics cannot be properly digested, the chemicals they easily absorb can be released and stored in our fats. These can then lead to complications later in life including cancer, birth defects (for parents) and other nasty stuff that we won’t go into.
What can we realistically do? Is it too late, aren’t the particles already there ?
It is of course super difficult to get the microplastics out of the oceans now. Any nets we try to use are going to catch anything and everything, devastating the oceans even further. However there are some new technologies being developed that claim to be able to separate 99% of biological or organic matter out meaning that the impacts of collecting the plastic will be limited.
Of course, unless you happen to be a genius or an engineer with some brilliant ideas, you might not feel up to the task of designing technologies to deal with the growing problem. There are things we can do though. The majority of marine debris (80%) comes from land based sources, meaning we can help reduce new plastics getting into the oceans through beach clean ups (MCS BeachWatch – http://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/), reducing our own plastic use and and reusing and recycling
what plastic we do use:
Things to avoid: | Alternatives
Plastic drink bottles: | Reusable bottles or tin cans
Plastic straws | Reusable metal straws….or just say no to straws!
Polystyrene containers | Take your own tupperware or eat in
plastic cutlery | Eat with your hand or request non-plastic cutlery when in a restuarant!
plastic shopping bags | Reusable 100% cotton bags are brilliant, and they are multi-functional too!
Every action we take can help to reduce further damage to our planet. All we need to do is think about the outcomes of our day to day lives and adjust accordingly. A little extra effort can go a massive way to helping reduce plastic.
So what is blue temple?
Blue Temple Conservation is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, registered in the UK. For the last three years we have been based in Malaysia, conducting research on coral health,
relationships between tourism and the environment and marine debris. We have been working alongside local NGO Reef Check Malaysia, and international volunteer organisation Ecoteer in our efforts to make significant changes in Pulau Perhentian.
We initially ran volunteer opportunities to participate, but this year became the research station we always aimed to be. Joined by 10 different researchers in 2016 and a reduced staff (2 people) we managed to successfully implement a recycle scheme for the island resorts and dive centres, test and implement interventions to reduce scuba diver damage to coral reefs, introduced water refill stations and reusable straws to a small number of resorts and worked alongside Reef Check Malaysia and Reef World to expand the reach of the Green Fins initiative on the islands.
Blue Temple is our home, our planet and our oceans.
How did volunteering help you to start a career in marine conservation?
Volunteering with and through Ecoteer kick-started everything I currently do. In 2013 I was working for a recruitment firm in Devon, England hoping to find funding for my PhD, but without much hope. After a failed attempt at buying a house, we visited Asia, volunteering at Ecoteer’s Perhentian Community project, a Thai farm and a marine conservation project in Cambodia.
Combined, these experiences gave me experience and knowledge that would later found the principles for Blue Temple and my own work. They lit a fire under me, driving me towards my goals and desires and resulting in the creation of Blue Temple and the chance to work in Malaysia alongside Ecoteer and Reef Check. Whether you are looking for work experience or the chance to gain life knowledge and experience, volunteering can help. What you take away from it just depends on what you are willing to give to it.