Microplastics in Panama

 Microplastics collected in Coiba, Panama during my December visit. These samples will be used to help train MantaRay to differentiate multiple plastic types.  Photo by Ethan Edson

Microplastics collected in Coiba, Panama during my December visit. These samples will be used to help train MantaRay to differentiate multiple plastic types.  Photo by Ethan Edson

During December, I was able to go to Panama to help with Northeastern University's Three Seas field program.  This year long program allows students to study in several ocean ecosystems including the Gulf of Maine, the Caribbean side of Panama, the Pacific side of Panama, and the Pacific Northwest.  While I was in Panama, I collected ~1,000 microplastic samples from different beaches around Coiba, an island on the Pacific side of the country.  The Coiba reserve is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) that prohibits commercial fishing, residential development, and boating traffic.  As a result, it has very healthy reefs and fish communities.  However, plastic knows no bounds, and the beaches and water around the MPA were completely littered with plastic pollution.  Without humans there, it was clear that all of this plastic debris was coming in from elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The samples that I brought back will help to train MantaRay to process “real samples”, as opposed to cut up plastic from consumer products. Stay tuned for a report on the size distribution and plastic composition for these samples, which will be processed in the coming months.