People taking part in water sampling training on the quay at Chichester Harbour

Research into marine littering from abandoned fibreglass boats

Steady progress is being made on a collaborative community project steered by the University of Brighton. The research – titled Protecting inland coastal waters through innovative citizen science: participatory action-research on end-of-life fibreglass boats – is evidencing end of life and abandoned boats in and around the Chichester Harbour environs.  Led by aquatic ecotoxicologist Dr Corina Ciocan and community water resources practitioner Dr Mary Gearey the aim of the research is to document marine littering from fibreglass boats in poor repair.

Initial research has indicated that these boats shed glass reinforced plastic microfibres (GRPS) into water environments which irretrievably embed themselves into the soft tissue of plants and animals, including humans. Over time these GRPS disrupt trophic relationships, as small animals such as water daphne and water snails, are pincushioned and are killed by these microfibres; this impacts successive food chains across aquatic networks to disrupt the life cycle of larger animals such as fish and sea birds. Each year at a global scale thousands of fibreglass boats are reaching redundancy and being abandoned, scuppered or taken to terrestrial landfill sites for disposal.

Working with members of the public, the project aims to collect physical data regarding GRP pollution through on-site water samples along with photos and geolocations of end-of-life boats within Chichester Harbour and its environs. The first stage of the project has been to share skills around how to document end-of-life fibreglass boats through photo mapping and blogging, and to learn how to undertake water quality sampling. We have already run workshops in April 2023 all three aspects – water sampling, photo documentation and blog writing, helping to train interested volunteers in these different citizen science activities.

So far we have eight burgeoning scientists actively collecting data – and are always keen to have new participants join us. The research so far has highlighted that GRP marine littering is a hidden issue within these coastal spaces and that much more work needs to be undertaken to raise awareness of this nascent environmental challenge.  All data collected will be stored and made publicly available on an open access database as part of a co-production approach which supports co-collaboration between the University of Brighton and local public.

Although this project’s geographical focus is on Chichester Harbour, it is building on community networks already established further up the coast in Shoreham-by-Sea and connects with aquatic communities worldwide who are working together to raise awareness and develop strategic responses. A one hour focus group will be held on Tuesday 4th July 2023 to explore future collaborations and review learning. We would be delighted to have as many people and perspectives as possible joining this focus group event.

Please contact Dr Mary Gearey to join us.  The project runs from February 15th 2023 until 31st July 2023.

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