More than two decades ago, I studied physics because of my strong interest in understanding phenomena in the natural world. At that time, the subject of ecology was practically non-existent, and the environment was subject of a highly charged political debate.
Today, environmental sciences have developed into a natural science research field, with a sound basis in biology, chemistry, physics and climate/ocean science. During the past three years, while finalising my projects in the Emmy Noether research group on starburst clusters, I studied Environmental Sciences and Protection in the University of Rostock's long-distance study programme. It was a challenge to lecture, supervise, and learn at the same time, but I quickly realised that this natural science-based ecology course was exactly what I needed to get a sound background in environmental sciences.
Although I followed many of the research areas in environments closely from a public perspective, my main interest lies in ocean protection and the science of the marine environment. The anthropogenic influence in the world's Oceans, in my view, causes four major areas of concern.
All of these issues are imminent and need further quantification and research to understand the depth of the problems and define measures for releave.
In recent years, I followed the debates on overfishing and bycatch most closely, as I have a special interest in ocean mammals and sea turtles. However, while these issues are slowly, and with large resistence from the fishing industries of various countries (including my own), but increasingly addressed by international and European law, ocean plastics as a research subject is just beginning to emerge. More than a decade has passed since Captain Charles Moore brought the existence of large amounts of plastics in the midst of the Pacific Ocean far from any human civilisation into the public attention, and yet today is the amount of plastics and its spatial distribution in the marine ecosystem known only in exceptional locations.
As a physicist and natural scientist, it is my sincere believe that a problem has to be understood quantitatively to trace back its origins and choose the best ways to solve it at its roots. On the political and industrial stage, proof is needed to provide convincing arguments for new laws, international agreements, and for changes in the production and waste management policies. Without knowing the main sources of macro- and microplastics in the marine environment, no one can be made responsible and solutions will not be found. Only if we understand the major origin, the transport mechanisms, and the effects of plastics in the marine food web, can efficient measures be defined to decrease the plastic entry into rivers and seas, and to relieve the marine world from plastic pollution.
With these issues in mind, I have engaged in a Master project on Microplastic Contamination along the German Baltic coast.
With the rising awareness for the scale of the problem, the number of publications on marine plastics, and especially on microplastics, has increased dramatically in the past few years. Numerous publications are available on the web, are partially freely accessible, and easily found with simple web searches. Because of the shear wealth of publications, only a few of the most connected references are selected here.
Arthur, C., Baker, J., Bamford, H. (eds). 2009: Proceedings of the International Research Workshop on the Occurrence, Effects and Fate of Microplastic Marine Debris, Sept 9-11, 2008, NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS-OR&R-30
Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., et al. 2015:
Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, Science, 347, 6223, 768-771
Hidalgo-Ruz, V., Thiel, M. 2013: Distribution and abundance of small plastic debris on beaches in the SE Pacific (Chile): A study supported by a citizen science project, Marine Environmental Research, 87-88, 12-18
McDermid K. J., McMullen T. L. 2004:
Quantitative analysis of small-plastic debris on beaches in the Hawaiian Archipelago,
Marine Pollution Bulletin, 48, 790-4
Moore, C. J., , Moore, S. L., Leecaster, M. K., Weisberg, S. B. 2001:
A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre
Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42, 1297-1300
Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R. P., Davis, A., et al. 2004:
Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?
Science, 304, 838
Californians against Waste [access date: April 2015]:
State of the legal prohibitions against plastic shopping bags.
New York State Microbeads-free water act [access date: April 2015]:
Convention on Biological Diversity 2012:
Impacts of Marine Debris on Biodiversity: Current Status and Potential Solutions