Around 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every single year, and the steady accumulation of plastics in fragile marine ecosystems has become one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.
Researchers and innovators play a crucial role shedding light on the impact of marine plastics and finding urgent solutions to address them. From 2019-20, the latest round of ACU Blue Charter Fellowships funded by Waitrose & Partners supported 10 research talents to design and complete innovative research projects and associated knowledge exchange activities across the Commonwealth, touching upon a range of topics supporting the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
Scroll down to learn more about the Fellows who will present at the upcoming event.
Dr Salom Gnana Thanga Vincent, University of Kerala, India
In the Indian state of Kerala, high coastal population density coupled with the lack of appropriate wastewater treatments has led to accumulating levels of plastic wastes in marine environments. During her Fellowship at the University of Newcastle in Australia, Salom designed her research project to examine the specific distributions of microplastics in coastal zones, analysing beach samples along the coasts of Kerala covering an impressive distance of up to 70 kilometres. Based on these samples, she established baseline data on the major types of microplastics polluting India's southwest coast - thus completing one of the first studies of its kind in the region. Salom's data have been published in renowned journals, and she hopes to contribute to India's national database on marine pollution and inform national-level mitigation strategies.
Dr Oluwarotimi Olafinnade, Covenant University, Nigeria
Oluwarotimi wanted to provide a viable solution to a complex question: how can we prevent plastics pollution at the source? His answer is simple and innovative: waste plastics can be shredded and reused to make other materials. During his Fellowship at the SRM Institute of Science and Technology in India, Oluwarotimi drew from his background in civil engineering to complete a range of lab analyses determining how shredded plastics can be applied as a constituent material for interlocking concrete pavers. His innovation is timely; in recent decades, construction industries around the world have been adopting alternative practices to reduce their environmental impact. The cost-effective pavers Oluwarotimi developed have the potential to be deployed for use in applications such as walkways, light traffic streetways, and landscaping construction in the future.
Dr Timothy Biswick, University of Malawi
Plastic pollution affects us all, but the degree of understanding on the issue varies greatly between regions. In Malawi, there is currently a paucity of research on plastic pollution and its sources, transport pathways, and ultimate fate. With his Blue Charter Fellowship at the University of Leicester in the UK, Timothy conducted a trailblazing study on the origins and types of microplastics in Lake Malawi – the first study of its kind in his country. He established a set of baseline data to inform strategic interventions and clean-up operations, and plans to continue working with communities along routes where plastics enter the aquatic environment, so that individuals can be engaged in effective measures of intervention.
Ms Freya Croft, University of Wollongong, Australia
During her Fellowship at Massey University in New Zealand, Freya designed a research project responding to the changes many commercial fishing companies face in relation to the management of plastics throughout their supply chains. Specifically, Freya examined how plastics are being used in the supply chain of a commercial fishing company, Moana New Zealand, and identified where plastics use can be reduced to prevent further leakage into marine environments. Her research is targeted at current policy discussions on marine pollution mitigation by providing viable tools for companies to reduce their plastics usage. She is currently sharing her findings with Moana New Zealand and other industry stakeholders more broadly, and plans to continue engaging international communities of practice with her research outcomes.
Dr Udiba Udiba, University of Calabar, Nigeria
Habitats associated with estuaries often act like enormous natural filters for man-made contaminants, such as microplastics. However, research into the role of these 'estuarine filters' in ecosystems is scarce. To address this knowledge gap, Udiba drew upon his background in environmental biology during his Fellowship at the University of Southampton in the UK to investigate the potential of estuaries as natural microplastics filters. Udiba's preliminary research results indicate that estuarine filters have significant potential to moderate the flow of plastics to the ocean and act as a cost-effective clean-up mechanism for the oceans. Presently, his most immediate audience are other researchers – going forward, Udiba hopes to engage the public and policymakers at national and international levels with his research outcomes.
Dr Robyn Wright, Dalhousie University, Canada
Robyn’s research interest lies in the 'Plastisphere' – a term referring to ecosystems which have evolved to live in man-made, plastic environments. While it has been suggested that the Plastisphere's microbes might be biodegrading plastics, it was not previously possible to draw any large-scale conclusions based on a handful of existing studies in this area. Robyn believes that answering this question will help us understand the ultimate fate of the plastics in our oceans. In the search for deeper insights, Robyn performed the first meta-analysis of three dozen existing Plastisphere studies, and stored the results of her work in a publicly accessible data repository for other researchers to build upon, moving us closer to understanding whether plastics in the environment can be naturally degraded by microorganisms. Through her Fellowship, Robyn was able to create resources that will allow future researchers to build upon existing knowledge and identify data gaps that most urgently need to be filled.
Dr Takunda Chitaka, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Despite growing attention on plastic pollution reduction globally, products and practices that cause the most leakage into the oceans are still not very well understood, and these knowledge gaps hamper the development of effective mitigation strategies. In response to this challenge, Takunda worked with her host collaborators at Massey University in New Zealand to quantify plastic flows into the marine environment, and identify problematic practices currently being employed in New Zealand, a waste-exporting country. Over the course of her fieldwork, Takunda identified the types of products most prone to leakage, and pointed to the practice of exporting plastics from New Zealand to southeast Asia as potentially one of the most significant drivers of plastic leakage into the ocean. Her research enables a comparison of factors influencing plastic waste flows in developing countries compared to developed ones. Takunda hopes to facilitate the development of targeted plastic flow reduction policies tailored to different country contexts.
Dr Taiwo Hammed, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Lagos is one of the fastest-growing cities in Nigeria. With levels of marine plastics pollution steadily accumulating in its coastal communities, the need for sustainable approaches to production and waste management is more urgent than ever. Recognizing this, Taiwo used his Fellowship at the University of Plymouth, UK to develop community-led plastic waste management strategies for various locations along Lagos' coastlines. He quantified plastic wastes entering the ocean through various terrestrial routes, identified the most common types of contaminants, and sensitised coastal communities on more environmentally-friendly approaches to plastics use and management. Taiwo reports that residents of the targeted communities in Lagos have already acquired a good level of knowledge on the practices of sustainable waste management through his work – which will ultimately lead to reduced levels of plastic pollution on the coasts of the city.
Dr Ndubuisi Nwafor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
In recent years, policies reducing or banning plastics have been widely adopted across a growing number of African nations. However, these remain largely punitive, legislative bans. In Nigeria, a new Nigerian Plastic Bags Prohibition Bill (2019) was proposed as a new legal framework to reduce plastics use. Drawing from his expertise in jurisprudence and legal theory, Ndubuisi used his Fellowship at Dalhousie University in Canada to investigate the strengths and limitations of the Bill, and propose ways to redraft it for greater efficacy and impact. His research reinforced evidence that existing legislative bans on curbing plastic pollution may not be the most optimal solution. This knowledge serves as an important addition to the global quest to establish solid governance over marine plastics pollution.
2018-19 - 10 fellowships funded by Waitrose & Partners which built on the success of the Blue Charter Programme's first cohort of 38 research talents.
Funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).Learn more about the programme