Professor Richard Thompson and Professor Penelope Lindeque are presented with the 2023 Blue Planet Prize by Mr Takuya Shimamura, Chairman of the Asahi Glass Foundation
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS has been presented with the 2023 Blue Planet Prize during a ceremony in Tokyo. The award, from the Asahi Glass Foundation, is in recognition of his groundbreaking research that led to the discovery of microplastics in the ocean and his ongoing work with colleagues in the UK and worldwide to establish their causes and impacts.
Professor Thompson attended the ceremony alongside fellow award winner Professor Penelope Lindeque, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and their families. It was also held in the presence of distinguished guests from across Japan, including the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Japan.
Here is an extract of Professor Thompson's acceptance speech, delivered during the ceremony.
I am deeply honoured and humbled to be a recipient of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize. The award acknowledges a personal journey that started more than 30 years ago when, as a student, I noticed that litter was arriving daily on the shores I was studying. I removed it day after day, but it kept returning. It motivated me to work with volunteer groups who cleaned beaches and recorded their findings.
Then, a chance observation changed my career – I realized the most numerous items on shore, namely small fragments, were not being recorded or removed. Curiosity led me as a young scientist to ask a fairly straightforward question - what are the smallest pieces of plastic litter in the ocean? A decade later that curiosity resulted in the first paper on microplastics published in the journal Science.
Subsequently, with fellow Laureates Professors Lindeque and Galloway, we went on to investigate the distribution and impacts of microplastics. Our findings stimulated global interest and, this year in Paris, I was humbled to see dozens of countries announce their intentions to address microplastics as part of the UN Global Plastic Pollution Treaty.
We are here today receiving this prize but we have not worked alone. Over 4,000 scientific papers have been published on the topic since my first one in 2004, and I have had the amazing good fortune to collaborate with excellent scientists and students from the University's International Marine Litter Research Unit and in over 100 countries worldwide. My family have also played in critical role in this work and I could not have achieved anything without their support, and that of my late parents who recognized the true value of education and curiosity.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS and Professor Pennie Lindeque, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, with their families at the Blue Planet Prize 2023 award ceremony
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS and Professor Pennie Lindeque, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, with their families at the Blue Planet Prize 2023 award ceremony
When it comes to plastic pollution, there are questions still to answer.
We need evidence to guide the way to solutions that really work, without unintended negative consequences. But ultimately, we can only move towards more sustainable use of plastics by working together across industry, policy and society. We only have one blue planet - its future, and our own, is more than ever dependent on the actions and choices we all make.
Philippe Cousteau, Found of EarthEcho International and one of the University of Plymouth honorary doctorates, sent a message of congratulations to Professor Thompson and the recipients of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize that was read out during the ceremony:
Phillippe Cousteau
Philippe Cousteau receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Plymouth
I was delighted, but not surprised, to hear you have been chosen to receive the 2023 Blue Planet Prize.
As you know, my family has spent decades working to protect and restore our ocean. The accumulation of plastics in the environment represents a serious and terrifying threat but, thankfully, is an issue that is now being taken increasingly seriously by everyone from global leaders to individuals and communities. This attention is in no small part due to your pioneering research and influence.
With that in mind, this accolade is incredibly well deserved. It recognizes scientific discoveries that are furthering our understanding of the global accumulation and environmental impact of plastics, as well as your ongoing efforts to guide the way towards solutions. It is also an acknowledgement of your work to provide evidence that informs action, which will be absolutely critical for an effective United Nations Plastic Pollution Treaty.
Congratulations and thank you for your inspiring dedication to protecting and restoring our ocean.
Below is our original story about Professor Richard Thompson being awarded the Blue Planet Prize, published when it was first announced in June 2023
A University of Plymouth academic has been awarded a prestigious global prize for his pioneering research into global plastic pollution.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, who led the first ever study highlighting the presence of microplastics in the ocean, has been named a recipient of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize.
The award, sponsored by the Asahi Glass Foundation, is presented to individuals or organisations who have made significant contributions to the resolution of global environmental problems.
It acknowledges the world-leading research Professor Thompson and colleagues have conducted over the past 25 years, as well as his ongoing influence at a national and international level.
Professor Thompson, who leads the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit and is Director of the Marine Institute, said:
“I am deeply honoured to be selected as a recipient of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize. The award further recognises the global environmental challenge of plastic pollution and the work done by my team at the University of Plymouth, collaborators locally and colleagues across the world, to help evidence the issue.
“Around 25 years ago I became curious to discover the smallest items of plastic in our ocean. Working with students we found pieces smaller than grains of beach sand, showed their abundance had increased over decades and that these fragments – which I described as microplastics – were readily eaten by marine life. As awareness of the problem has increased, my focus has turned to identifying and evaluating the solutions needed to solve this global environmental crisis and that remains one of the biggest challenges that both scientists and society face today.”
Experiential learning - Richard Thompson teaching second year marine biology students on the beach
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talks to Imogen Napper and Richard Thompson for his BBC series 'War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita'
In 2004, Professor Thompson published a seminal piece of research in the journal Science in which he coined the term microplastics to describe the microscopic plastic fragments found in our oceans.
Since then, he has been involved in key discoveries demonstrating the global distribution of microplastics – from shorelines to the deep ocean and even the highest slopes of Mount Everest – and the potential for microplastics to transport chemicals to marine life.
He has also examined the use of technology – including washing machine filters and other mechanical devices – to both prevent the flow of plastics into the ocean and to clear the waters of what is there already.
He directly influenced the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution, signed by 175 world leaders in March 2022, and has contributed to UK legislation on single-use carrier bags and the use of microbeads in cosmetics.
Professor Thompson has jointly been awarded the prize with Professor Tamara Galloway OBE, from the University of Exeter, and Professor Penelope Lindeque from Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
They have been collaborating on various initiatives since 2007, and this is the second time in a year that their ongoing collaboration has been recognised through an international accolade, after they received the Volvo Environment Prize 2022.
They also collectively won both the Societal Impact category and overall prize in the Natural Environment Research Council’s 2018 Impact Awards.
Professor Penelope Lindeque, Professor Richard Thompson and Professor Tamara Galloway