Category: Environment and Conservation
The University received its third Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on 20 February, 2020, for its pioneering research on microplastics pollution in the oceans and its impact on the environment and changing behaviour.
The honour recognises nearly two decades of world-leading research into the effects of marine plastics on our environment by Plymouth researchers, led by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, which has resulted in repeated scientific breakthroughs and influenced national and international legislation.
It was in 2004 that the University first described the presence of microplastics in the marine environment, when in a seminal paper published in the journal Science, Professor Thompson and his team showed that there had been rising levels of microscopic plastic debris evident in the plankton record since the 1960s.
The paper attracted global media coverage, and inspired a new field of scientific enquiry, with Professor Thompson and his team at the very forefront as they followed up with a remarkable series of fundamental research papers. These included: being the first to show the global distribution of microplastics, including in the Arctic and the deep ocean; their ingestion by fish and other marine life; the role that textiles and wastewater play in their source and transmission – with a single wash of clothing releasing more than 700,000 microfibers; and how some facial scrubs could contain up to 2.8 million microbeads.
The University’s interdisciplinary International Marine Litter Research Unit also considers public attitudes and behavioural aspects in relation to plastic and the marine environment. This has been backed by a commitment to engaging with industry bodies and government that has included presenting scientific evidence at the United Nations, G7 and EU levels. As a result, the University has influenced new legislation in the UK, Europe and Canada, including the ban on microbeads in cosmetics.