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A day on the beach as Yldau and Fabian went off in search of the missing 99% – the plastic in our seas that we cannot see.
More than 5 million metric tonnes of plastic reach the ocean every year. We know it poses a threat to marine life and ultimately to humans. But we don’t know the extent of the problem because we see less 1% of it, only the plastic that floats, while the rest becomes a giant question mark. Where did it come from, where did it go, what damage did it cause?
There are people working on figuring all this out, like the young oceanographers at the University of Utrecht working together on a project called TOPIOS, Tracking Of Plastic In Our Seas.
Three of them, Philippe from Belgium, David from Germany and Victor from the Netherlands, all post-graduate students, were Yldau and Fabian’s hosts for the day and took them around the TOPIOS research station on beautiful Texel, the largest island of the West Frisian Islands in the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area .
Using field data, wave tank experiments, and super computer simulations, TOPIOS is building a powerful new model that can visualise this movement – a 3D map of marine litter.
Europe is helping to fund this project which hopefully will help us tackle the plastic problem at source, because researchers will able to tell which country is responsible for which part of the problem. They will also be able to tell where marine life is the worst hit and consequently where to focus the efforts to combat plastic pollution at sea for maximum impact.
Fabian and Yldau were supposed to take part in the TOPIOS field work by sampling plastic from aboard a boat of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong for that so, after a brief spin on the vessel with Philippe, David and Victor, it was rubber boots time again, and working on the beach!
The Wadden Sea, by the way, is a huge system of intertidal sand and mud flats covering three countries: the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. It is a completely unique landscape and known to around 10 million migratory birds as a great place for a stop-off.