Magali Zapata Cazier, IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation.
Scientists and researchers from marine laboratories in the Caribbean have learned the latest techniques and methods for monitoring microplastics in marine ecosystems at an IAEA-sponsored training course, hosted by Colombia’s Institute for Marine and Coastal Research (INVEMAR) from 27 to 31 March.
Plastic pollution is a growing threat to the ocean and to marine life. Microplastics – tiny plastic particles smaller than 5 millimetres in size – are of particular concern in the ocean, as they can accumulate and cause harm to organisms. The IAEA launched the Nuclear Technology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics) initiative in 2021to enhance the capacity of Member States to monitor and manage plastic waste, including microplastics, in the marine environment.
The training course, held in Santa Marta under NUTEC Plastics, brought together participants from nine Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The course focused on using nuclear techniques for the separation, identification and counting of microplastics. Participants practiced field sampling techniques and learned analysis methods for different matrices monitored in coastal environments, such as beach sand, seawater and marine sediments. The skills acquired will enhance marine scientists’ abilities to monitor and report on the presence of microplastics in the ocean.
“This course has provided us with the knowledge and skills to assess microplastic contamination levels in various environments, such as the sea and beach sand,” said Indira Constant, a participant from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries of Dominica. “Having a harmonized protocol among Caribbean countries to assess microplastic contamination will allow consistent and comparable data to be collected. With this information, policy makers and stakeholders can develop effective management strategies to mitigate the risks associated with microplastic pollution, such as reducing plastic use and improving waste management practices.”
The participants were encouraged to apply the harmonized protocols for sampling and analysis that have been developed by the Research Network of Marine-Coastal Stressors in Latin America and the Caribbean (REMARCO) and thus contribute to harmonizing data in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Their work will contribute to national efforts to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal indicator 14.1, which aims to prevent and reduce marine pollution.
“NUTEC Plastics offers an opportunity for the Latin American and Caribbean region to join the global efforts of marine laboratories to share experiences and best practices,” said Carlos Alonso Hernandez, Research Scientist from the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories, who participated in the design and implementation of the training course.
Regional specialists from REMARCO, INVEMAR and Mexico delivered the training course. It highlighted the importance of regional and South-South cooperation in addressing the common challenges faced by Caribbean countries in managing their marine resources. The course also underscored the need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach to monitoring microplastics at the national level to contribute to global efforts to address the growing threat of plastic pollution in the ocean.
REMARCO unites 18 marine laboratories in the Latin American and Caribbean region and aims to expand to include marine laboratories in English-speaking countries in the Caribbean. The REMARCO network is a key partner in the NUTEC Plastics initiative, as its laboratories are responsible for developing and applying nuclear and isotopic techniques to monitor marine pollution, including microplastics.