A new project to educate and engage communities and to obtain widespread reliable data on the presence of microplastic particles in Australian aquatic environments has been launched in Manly, NSW.
The Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) is a national coalition of environmental groups, universities and educators who are gathering data about the prevalence of microplastic in the marine environment and where it has come from.
Citizen science activities are being developed for high schools, environmental education centres and community groups to contribute data and help improve public awareness of the problem.
The project is led by Executive Director, Jeff Angel, Program Manager, Dr Michelle Blewitt and Research Scientist Dr Scott Wilson and is a program of the Total Environment Centre.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Blewitt said there is currently an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans.
"Not only are plastics entangling animals, they're ingesting these plastics. The smaller plastics are also being ingested in animals as small as our zoo plankton, the basis of the food chain."
Students from years 9 to 12 will participate in the project using a scientific method to collect data from coastlines.
"We're using two methods: a transect line where they're collecting the large stuff — plastic bottles, plastic bags, anything that's visible — [and] that data gets added into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative database," Dr Blewitt said.
"We're also collecting microplastic, which is one to five millimetres in size so it's visible to the naked eye.
"We collect the top two centimetres of sand in the quadrat and we sift that through different size sieves. What's left is what we collate, and we check and we count and we quantify."