Eureka! Finding solutions to plastic pollution

By July 24th, 2015

CSIRO researchers have been named finalists in the 2015 Eurkea Prize for Environmental Research for their work looking at plastic pollution in the oceans.
A woman on a beach picking up a piece of red plastic from sand

CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere researcher Denise Hardesty inspects debris on North Stradbroke Island.

The 2015 Eureka Prize finalists were announced today, with CSIRO’s marine debris team a finalist for the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Researchers from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere used interdisciplinary research to understand the sources and distribution of marine debris, integrating field and laboratory studies with oceanographic and ecological modelling to assess its impacts on wildlife and evaluate possible policy responses. The team was able to translate scientific information into action by combining research with citizen science, outreach to government and media engagement that resulted in improved behaviours and more effective policy.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a major global threat to marine ecosystems and species. Over 8.4 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, with impacts documented on nearly 700 species. However, despite the recognition that plastic pollution is a potential major ecological threat, prior to CSIRO’s national marine debris project, little was known about its sources, distribution, and impact on wildlife in Australia.

Many pieces of plastic littered across a sandy beach

Debris littered across a beach on Christmas Island.

The three-year study sampled 35,000 km of coastline and 11,000 nautical miles of oceans. It was the world’s largest collection of marine debris information, and identified Australia’s coastal rubbish is mainly plastic from Australian sources.

The project engaged nearly 7000 young Australians through citizen science engagement, driving behavioural change through direct participation in the research. Through social, electronic, print media, radio and television, the team has reached more than 20 million people domestically and overseas to help influence attitudes and understanding of individual impact on the environment.

The research was part of TeachWild, a national research and education program developed by Earthwatch Australia in partnership with CSIRO and Shell Australia’s National Social Investment Program.

Map of Australia with coloured dots indicating places with high concentrations of plastic

A map showing the concentrations of plastic found in Australian waters.

CSIRO’s Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, from Astronomy and Space Science is also a finalist in the Eureka Awards, in the category for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research.

More information

CSIRO’s marine debris research