Credit Cristian Palmer
There are many reasons why keen graduates choose to do a PhD – for a challenge; to push forward the boundaries of their chosen subject; to show what they are capable of. But also, to have the opportunity to go to fantastic places around the world, many of which would be inaccessible unless visiting with a research team. PhDs are a great chance to travel and network with a huge range of different people around the world. For the two of us; Chris Walkinshaw and Zara Botterell, both EnvEast students based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), our first opportunity for international travel came through a microplastics workshop in Lima, Peru. We both applied separately for places on this workshop (funded by the ODA Newton-Paulet Fund), and luckily we were both successful, and found ourselves on a 13-hour flight to Peru on the 7th October.
Upon arriving, we made our way to the hotel and checked in, easily spotting the other excited PhD students from around the UK, and did a spot of ‘networking’ in a local café before the event began the next day.
The international training workshop on microplastic debris was based in Instituto del Mar del Peru (IMARPE), in the Callao district of Lima, Peru. On the first morning, we met the other delegates; 30 researchers and stakeholders in total, there to share knowledge about microplastics, receive expert training and network.
The first two days of the workshop consisted of office-based learning and activities designed to showcase the microplastics research conducted by all the delegates, identify areas of common interest and to facilitate discussions on methods of best practice. This included poster presentations, group activities, and oral presentations from microplastics researchers. Following this, two days of lab-based activities were undertaken with the aim of identifying microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of anchovies caught in the Humboldt large marine area, a highly productive fishery off the coast of Peru. Preliminary results identified microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of the majority of Peruvian anchovies processed.
Dissecting anchovies for the practical microplastics identification session
The workshop was then rounded off with a plenary session, where approximately 60 stakeholders were invited from scientific, media and governmental organisations from around Peru, including the UK Ambassador to Peru, the head of IMARPE and the Vice-Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. An educational outreach session then informed the audience about the issue of microplastic pollution through presentations performed by all the participants. This was followed by a tour of the IMARPE research vessel B.I.C. Humboldt, a 75m Peruvian oceanographic research vessel with polar capacity.
Aboard the B.I.C. Humboldt research vessel
When I went on this workshop, I was in the first month of my PhD, so this was an absolutely fantastic opportunity to get up to date with the latest research and methods, and engage with a wide variety of microplastics researchers from academia and industry. As I didn’t know anyone in the field of microplastics research before this event, it was great to be able to meet my peers and discuss everyone else’s PhD research. The practical sessions were a great introduction to the kind of lab work that I will be doing over the next few years, and gave me the opportunity to think about the practicalities of microplastics research.
Having just started the second year of my PhD, this was an excellent chance to network with other researchers and share my knowledge and experience of laboratory based experiments and working with marine zooplankton. The presentation and demonstration of different practical methods and sampling techniques provided some helpful ideas for future PhD work and were a very useful insight into how microplastics are extracted from sediments, water and marine organisms.
This workshop was a great networking event, and has already seen some positive outcomes. For example, some of the Peruvian participants have been involved in educational outreach, teaching school children about plastic pollution, and PML are in discussions with IMARPE about carrying on the research started in this workshop, investigating microplastics in the Humboldt large marine ecosystem.
All in all, it was a great workshop with some inspirational researchers! Thanks to Pennie Lindeque and Matt Cole (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Manousos Valyrakis (University of Glasgow) and Sara Purca (Instituto del Mar del Peru (IMARPE), Peru) who organised and led the workshop, and the ODA Newton-Paulet Fund which funded this workshop.
The workshop organisers Pennie, Manousos and Sara (on the right) with the UK Ambassador to Peru (Kate Harrisson), the president of IMARPE (Vice Adm. Javier Gaviola (I)) and the Vice-Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Javier Atkins (c)).