The Marine Biology, Aquaculture, Conservation Education and Ecophysiology (MACE) laboratory at the School of Life Sciences featured strongly in a session devoted to microplastics and the danger they pose to marine life at the recent Symposium for Contemporary Conservation Practice (SCCP).
UKZN academics Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson and Mr Gan Moodley lead the MACE research team on the Westville campus, supervising the research projects of many postgraduate students who are part of their lab.
The SCCP explored the practice, science and value of nature conservation, and charted a renewed path towards addressing conservation challenges of the current era.
The Symposium is an initiative of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) in partnership with WILDLANDS, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the Environmental Law Association, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Zululand. SCCP aims to develop synergies between conservation implementation and research.
This year’s edition saw the launch of a new marine programme, WILDOCEANS, in addition to its focus on the terrestrial environment.
The microplastics session featured nine presentations, eight of which were delivered by members of the MACE Lab. Robertson-Andersson gave a presentation on the topic of a semi-decadal overview of marine plastic research in KwaZulu-Natal: quo vadis, while Moodley’s presentation was titled Climate Change and Microplastics: Serious Conservation Threats for the Brown Mussel, Perna perna.
‘All of the presentations involved novel research on uptake and effects of microplastics on various marine animals, including fish, mussels, oysters, shrimp, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers,’ said Moodley.
‘These findings raise concern as the ingested microplastic particles (fibres and fragments) pose serious threats to the animals. Microplastic particles taken up by the animals could cause physical damage such as gut blockage or gut abrasions, thereby compromising gut function in these animals, and/or act as vectors of toxicants – heavy metals and persistent organic chemicals (POPs) – which then negatively affect the organism in various ways,’ he added.
Symposium delegates complimented members of the lab on the high level of science and its relevance, and for the smooth delivery of their presentations. Robertson-Andersson and Moodley were also congratulated for their outstanding supervision of the research projects and their postgraduate students.
Despite the challenges, Robertson-Andersson is positive. ‘Twenty years ago, we had things like glasses and tin cans and plastic bottles on the beaches,’ she said. ‘With programmes like “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, people have become more aware of their plastic products. We can do something about it, but it’s up to each individual person, rather than big organisations.’
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph supplied by Gan Moodley