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OPx Citizen Science Microplastics


Microplastics Pollution Research

The increase of plastic pollution in global oceans is being recognized as a major threat to our planet. Plastic contaminants have been discovered in every marine ecosystem that researchers have looked for them, from the poles to the tropics, from the depths of the ocean, to even the most remote shorelines worldwide. Researchers are finding that smaller plastic particles, called microplastics, are ingested by tiny ocean organisms and persist up the food chain, making their way into the foods we eat, often coated with nasty chemicals they absorb and concentrate while floating at sea.

Research on environmental microplastics is still in its infancy. In 2015, SUSiE student researchers performed the first ever experiments to assess the effect of microplastic pollution on coral reefs. The results were disturbing at best. Corals were unable to distinguish microplastic particles from their natural food items and ingestion of only a few small particles led to excessive mucous production and complete cessation in growth. SUSiE presented these results at the 2016 AGU Ocean Sciences meeting, raising considerable concern within the ocean science community.

You will help conduct microplastics research aboard a SUSiE EXPEDITION. Once we’ve brought you up to speed on the current state of the field, you’ll get your hands wet conducting plastic trawls aboard the vessel. We then teach you to quantify the filters for plastics using a UV light dissecting scope. The samples you collect will be preserved and archived for additional spectroscopic analyses. Your data will contribute to SUSiE’s ongoing microplastics project to estimate the level of environmental microplastic pollution in the Bahamas. This is added to a larger global oceans plastic pollution database.

OPx Citizen Science Photomosaics


Coral Reef Photomosaic Monitoring Project

With the alarming decline in coral reefs worldwide, there is an urgent need for increasing awareness. While recognizing their extrinsic beauty, many do not comprehend the magnitude of loss to society should this proceed to extinction. A recent estimate from biomedical researchers put the value of coral reefs at $5 trillion for potential new drug discovery in the oncology sector alone. Multi-national global projects (i.e. Catlin Seaview Survey & Google Earth) are underway to bring this message to the masses using stunning underwater survey imagery and interactive, open-source interface platforms. Using digital technologies, putting science in the hands of concerned citizens is now not only feasible, but a powerful way to connect people intimately to current ocean issues and concerns.

Last year, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Miami RSMAS, SUSiE launched its Coral Reefs Photomosaic Monitoring Project (CRPMP). The CRPMP uses cutting-edge technology to generate high resolution, spatially accurate consensus images, called photomosaics, from simple GoPro video footage. Think of a digital snapshot of a large area of coral reef, corrected for camera pitch and tilt, with enough resolution to zoom in and count individual coral polyps. Now consider how many vacationers, divers and snorkelers visit coral reef destinations each year with a GoPro strapped to their wrist. SUSiE sees this as a unique opportunity to engage citizens and create a massive dataset for critical monitoring of coral reefs on a global scale.

  • Collect photomosaic data for SUSiE/UMiami,RSMAS Caribbean coral reef monitoring project.

Aboard a SUSiE EXPEDITION, you will participate in the underwater collection of photomosaic data. We’ll visit several of the permanent monitoring stations we have at reefs along the archipelago to collect data to be processed into photomosaics for analyses and archiving. We’ll also collect your feedback on the process, so we may refine the protocols to accommodate a range of age and abilities. Your input and data are critical to the launch of ‘iCoral’, the mobile app SUSiE is designing to put CRPMP in the hands of citizen scientist travelers. Post-expedition, we’ll provide you the high-res versions of the photomosaics your team collected – a cool memorandum from your expedition as well as a great conversation piece.

OPx Citizen Science Coral Forensics


Coral Cores for Sewage Pollution Forensics

Globally, the decline of coastal marine habitats from improper sewage treatment and discharge is increasing, leading to a loss in ecosystem services and the economic livelihood of those that depend on them. Coral reefs are especially sensitive to chronic wastewater input, as they are naturally adapted to low-nutrient conditions. Fortunately, while global stressors require international coordination to address, local stressors like sewage pollution can be mitigated through policy and management at the local level.

Elizabeth Harbour in Great Exuma is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, and a popular cruising destination for sailors. This beautiful, protected harbour contains numerous patch reefs, seagrass meadows, blue holes, mangroves and rocky shorelines that are the focal point of the tourism-based economy of Exuma. Unfortunately, most of these ecosystems are showing a historically increasing trend of decline. Researchers have confirmed the increase in sewage pollution as a primary factor, but have been unable to pinpoint the source(s). This has led to local conflict, with residents blaming the seasonal cruising community for improper waste treatment/disposal aboard the nearly 600 vessels anchored within the harbour each winter. Conversely, the cruisers blame the problem on the inadequate waste treatment facility and poor land-use practices of Georgetown.

In collaboration with the Bahamas Division of Marine Resources and the Elizabeth Harbour Conservation Partnership, SUSiE has undertaken research to uncover the answer. In 2016, SUSiE Expedition’s student researchers collected cores from living corals within the harbour. Using stable isotope analyses on the seasonal bands in the coral skeleton, we will attempt to reconstruct the historical signal of sewage pollution over the last 30 years. A critical component of this project is the reef surveys we still need to conduct, along with additional cores to be taken aboard HSx and UNIx Expeditions. Student teams will use an underwater pneumatic drill to collect additional coral cores, while citizen scientists will help establish and map underwater survey stations and collect data and imagery necessary for publication of this research. Ultimately, this project will provide critical information needed to guide future resource usage and managements plans of Elizabeth Harbour.

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