Texas Sea Grant co-sponsored the first Texas Plastic Pollution Symposium

November 05, 2018

By Kimber De Salvo

COLLEGE STATION, Texas –Texas Sea Grant was honored to attend and co-sponsor the first ever Texas Plastic Pollution Symposium on October 30th. 

Session topics included: Impacts to Fish and Wildlife, Chemistry, Policy & Urban Communities, Monitoring Plastic Pollution, and Solutions.

One disturbing theme that was evident across all sessions, is that microplastics are a huge environmental and biological problem. Animals mistake plastic for food and ingest it, inhibiting their ability to efficiently gain nutrients. Moreover, the plastic and its chemistry is toxic, which harms animal’s health, often leading to mortality. Furthermore, the most prevalent type of microplastic appears to be plastic fibers. These fibers are ubiquitous and end up in the drainage systems and waterways from washing polyester clothing, for example.

This is important to consider when it comes to human health.  How much plastic are humans eating and drinking just through their diet? What does this mean for human health? One overall consensus of this symposium was these questions need to be researched further.

Two of Texas Sea Grant’s funded graduate students, Lee Pinnell and Polly Hajovsky both from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, presented their research. Pinnell discussed “The Life of A Nurdle,” how traditional petroleum-based plastic is not easily broken down by bacteria compared to bio-plastic. Hajovsky presented “Occurrence of Microplastic in the Diet of Juvenile Fish” and discovered that 84% of juvenile fish had eaten suspected-microplastics in Corpus Christi Bay and the Upper Laguna Madre.

Additionally, Texas Sea Grant’s Graduate Assistant Researcher, Christine Figgener, introduced the documentary, Straws, where she comments on her sea turtle research in Costa Rice.  In the film, Figgener witnessed first-hand how plastic impacts sea turtles.  The footage shows the now infamous clip of a straw that was lodged within a sea turtle’s nasal cavity being pulled out. 

At the symposium, Texas Sea Grant Director, Dr. Pamela Plotkin, served as the "Monitoring Plastic Pollution" session chair moderator. Other Texas Sea Grant staff in attendance included Kimber De Salvo, Chris Hale, Morgen Ayers, Laura Picariello, and Ashley Bennis.

Texas Sea Grants extends a special thank you to University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Mission-Aransas Reserve, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Coastal Bend Chapter – Surfrider Foundation for co-hosting this symposium.  Thank you to all of the speakers and presenters (including: researchers, scientists, policy makers, lawyers, industry, and advocates) who brought so much depth and variety to the symposium.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.