Kit scientifique d'identification de microplastique
Published on September 12, 2017

Studying microplastics in the Adriatic sea

For the second time this year, Watertrek, represented by its cofounder Séverine, joined the MED Scientific Expedition sailing boat, chartered by Bruno Dumontet in order to join a campaign on the study of microplastics in the Mediterranean. After the Genes region in 2016, it is between Pescara and Venice that Séverine has joined the Ainez, the vessel of captain Giulio Cesare Giua. Just like last year, the objective is to sample sea water in order to extract some plastics and microplastics from them. The amount of sample to collect and the sample zones are defined upstream by the scientific team made up of Tosca Ballerini (PhD Marine Biologie), Marion Philippon  Jéremy Mansui (PhD Oceanographie) and Laura Frère (PhD Marine Biologie). Our role is to deploy the manta in the water, sail for 30 minutes, then bring the collector out of the water and extract its content. First of all, the plant elements are withdrawn (aquatic plants, pine needles, leaves), the gelatinous organisms like jellyfish are withdrawn from the sample, leaving an assortment of plankton, larves and…microplastics. This assortment is then kept in 70% ethanol while waiting to be analysed by Marion Philippa at the University of South Brittany, under the supervision of Stéphane Bruzard. This analysis will allow them to estimate the amount of plastic present in the samples.

New this year is the addition of a more sensitive bacterial procedure to the samples, the objective being to study the “plastisphere”, that is to say the communities of micro-organisms which colonise plastic. This research has been carried out in partnership with the biologists Linda Amaral-Settler and Erik Zettler (NIOZ - Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research), the inventors of the term “plastisphere”. Plastic is rot-proof, therefore it provides an ideal environment for viruses and bacteria who need stability to develop. This means, moreover, that they can make it the perfect place for an epidemic, putting again into question the sanitary role of marine areas which up until now enabled quarantine. What will happen if the sea can no longer protect certain proliferations, but on the contrary support them by the bias of the plastic that it welcomes? Trying to find an answer to this question, this new procedure is going to be put into place on board. The  protocol requires us to be vigilant and not leave traces of our DNA on the samples. A sufficiently big piece of plastic is chosen from the sample, it is then cut into 3 isolated pieces: the first piece will be used to observe micro-organisms under a scanning electron microscope, the second to identify bacterial communities by extracting their DNA, and the third for a chemical analysis in order to confirm the nature of the plastic piece. The results will be known in a few months.

To be on board MED Expedition means sailing with the greatest captain. Gastronomic exploration of Italian dishes, unexpected and confidential anchorage, all types of adventures: Giulio has looked after us again this year. Despite the fact that sailing in the Venetian lagoon is particularly tricky with a sailing boat, Giulio enabled us to discover unbelievable locations, like the Isle of Pelestrina, an authentic oasis in the heart of the lagoon which allowed us to appreciate an exceptional evening, when a guy from the village, accompanied by his accordionist and a sublime opera singer, offered the locals an a cappella concert in the village. The inhabitants of the island have brought their chairs to place themselves in front of the church and accompany their tenor in his repertoire of traditional venetian songs. This is Giulio: virtuous, generous, real, surprising. As our love for sailing is nothing, but equal to our love of the sea, it’s for that reason that it’s in our hearts to protect it. 

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