Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

scuppered boat

Scuppered dreams: A community action research project

Scuppered dreams: A community action research project to explore the impacts of microfibre pollutants from abandoned boats on marine environments

This is exciting new project led by two Centre for Aquatic Environments researchers, Dr Corina Ciocan, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology  and Dr Mary Gearey, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, is underway in 2021.

Funded by the University of Brighton’s Radical Futures initiative this one year project builds on research already initiated by Dr Ciocan in Chichester harbour, assessing microfibre pollutants derived from glass reinforced plastic (GRP); widely known as fibreglass. Dr Ciocan’s findings revealed that GRP are a developing hazard to aquatic plant and animal life – and to humans.

These microfibres accumulate in animal and cellular tissue through ingestion- and once in-situ cannot be removed; causing a range of known and emergent biological defects. The source of these microfibres are the leaching of degrading hulls of fibreglass boats directly into the water. Many global commercial and recreational boats sold over the last forty years are made from fibreglass due to its wide availability as a durable, low-cost and reliable material. When these boats reach their ‘end of life’ and are no longer sea-worthy how they are disposed has a significant impact on aquatic pollution levels.

Timely boat disposal using government regulated boat-breaker services may lower the incidence of pollution; observations drawn from Dr Ciocan’s research suggest that illegal in-situ boat abandonment and scuppering (purposive sinking) practices could be contributing to the problem.

This project’s purpose of study, until February 2022, is to work with boat owners, harbour masters and attendant aquatic environment stakeholders along the South Coast of England to understand what different options boat owners select to dispose of their boats, and why, and to discuss what other approaches could be fostered to protect local aquatic environments.

Through capturing these contemporary human practices around end-of-life fibreglass boats, and understanding the range of different regulatory, statutory, financial and customary regimes which influence these practices, we hope to develop a series of policy recommendations to reduce this form of aquatic pollution.

Dr Ciocan and Dr Gearey will undertake this data collection through the development of a series of inclusive focus groups with the local boating community as part of the ‘action research project’ design, where the community will shape what long-term outputs they would like to see in place for their local environment. Through working together on this issue another aim is to increase local awareness of microfibre hazards to protect human and aquatic life. Our chosen case study location is Chichester harbour along to Shoreham-by Sea harbour within West Sussex. If successful, this ‘seed’ project will be rolled out across other global aquatic environments through the development of future funding bids.

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Laura Ruby • February 2, 2021

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