With samples of microplastics continuing to be taken of the surface water for the “Plastisphère” project (NIOZ), there is also an ongoing mission relating to the waste floating in the sea as well as samples of microplastics being taken between Concepción and Easter Island (UCN and ESMOI)
Since leaving Concepción, Diego Alonso Valverde Labarca, a Chilean scientist from the Universidad Catolica del Norte (UCN) has joined our crew aboard Race for Water to complete 3 different scientific missions between the Chilean coast and Easter Island:
- Estimate the abundance and spatial distribution of floating waste at sea
- Estimate the abundance of microplastics in the surface water
- Make a stopover at the island of Salaz y Gomez to list the nesting birds and the impact of plastic waste on these birds
These 3 missions stem from a scientific collaboration with Dr Martin Thiel, biologist and doctor of oceanography at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile (UCN) and his colleague, Dr Guillermo Luna-Jorquera, co-director of the ESMOI (Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands).
Kim Van Arkel, the Race for Water Foundation’s scientific advisor: “We met Martin Thiel during our first stopover in Valparaiso during the initial Odyssey in 2015. At that point, we visited the young researchers who were fine-tuning a citizen-based science programme: “Cientificos de la Basura” managed by Martin Thiel. These youngsters, together with students and teachers, have applied a scientific method since 2007 in order to study the problem of waste along the Chilean coast”.
For its part, the ESMOI is an institute working in close collaboration with the UCN (Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile) to put together a strategy for sustainable management and conservation of the biodiversity of Chilean oceanic islands. Guillermo Luna-Jorquera’s primary contribution to the project is a study into the ecology and nesting of seabirds in response to the specific conditions of Rapa Nui and Salaz y Gomez. He is collaborating with Martin Thiel in a bid to understand the impact of waste on these seabirds.
As a result, an entire complementary study has been entrusted to Diego for this long crossing with the Race for Water between Chile and Easter Island.
Kim van Arkel: “Due to the poor conditions encountered between Concepción and Robinson only a few samples were able to be taken. Fortunately, since leaving Robinson the seas have calmed down a bit and every day the crew assists with the launch of the net and monitors Diego’s observations about the content of the samples and the seabirds encountered with great curiosity.”
Focus on the protocol followed at sea
For the first mission, the estimate of the abundance and distribution of the floating waste at sea is pinpointed through the continuous observation and surveillance of the water surface from the deck of the vessel. Diego is using the so-called ‘transect’ method to determine the surface sampled and the density of the floating materials using the position and distance in relation to the vessel.
For the second mission, which involves estimating the abundance of microplastics in the surface water, Diego has brought along a special net called an ‘AVANI’ net. Thanks to its special shape, it can be used at a speed of over 4 knots, which means the vessel’s progress doesn’t have to be halted as this is its average speed.
The samples taken for the “Plastisphère” project are still underway
At the same time, our own sailors regularly take samples of microplastics from the water surface for the “Plastisphère” project with the help of the classic Manta net on-board. A few electric blue Copepoda and other plankton of strange colours make up their latest harvests (Read our last article about the Plastisphère project )
Kim van Arkel: “We’re keen to find out more about their discoveries and we hope the weather will be mild for their stopover on the island of Salaz y Gomez so that Diego can complete his 3rd and final mission before Race for Water arrives in the land of the Rapa Nuis.”