The Big Coast Clean Up: Meet the Norfolk scientist leading the fight against microplastics

Marine pollution expert Dr Amy Lusher, on boat doing research in the Arctic. Picture: SUPPLIED BY AM

Marine pollution expert Dr Amy Lusher, on boat doing research in the Arctic. Picture: SUPPLIED BY AMY LUSHER - Credit: Archant

Larger bits of plastic waste not only look awful when they end up on our beaches, but can be deadly to wildlife.

Polystyrene foam beads, a kind of microplastics, washed up on a beach. Picture: G MANNAERTS

Polystyrene foam beads, a kind of microplastics, washed up on a beach. Picture: G MANNAERTS - Credit: Archant

But it is microplastics - pieces less than 1mm in size - which can have a truly devastating effect on the marine environment, as Sheringham research scientist Dr Amie Lusher knows all too well.

Dr Lusher said plastics became more, and not less, harmful as they broke down over time.

She said: 'The smaller they get they harder they are to remove, and the more detrimental the consequences.

'Plastics in the marine environment affect the ecosystem and biota inhabiting it.

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'Large items of plastic can be unsightly on beach and detract tourists, but also cause entanglements of flora and biota.

'Smaller plastics are available for ingestion, and animals may be able to eat them, either directly from the water or after eating prey already containing plastics.'

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Dr Lusher went to Sheringham High School and then Fakenham College before going on to study at Plymouth University.

She is now leader of the plastic/microplastic pollution research at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), based in Olso.

She is also an advisor on microplastics for Gesamp, the UN's Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection.

Dr Lusher is hosting a talk called Plastics and the environment at Sheringham's Lighthouse Community Church, where she plans to take a local angle on the issues at play.

She said: 'I will be talking about my research and how growing up in Norfolk fuelled my interest in marine biology.

'I will be relating my research to Norfolk - effects on biota, plastic distributions, etcetera, and answering questions related to plastic pollution on a global scale.'

The talk will take place on Thursday, July 5, starting at 6pm.

-The EDP and its sister newspapers across the region are running a Big Coast Clean Up campaign to encourage people to help keep our beaches free of litter. We're asking people to take action to protect our beaches and wildlife - be that by simply remembering to take your rubbish home from your visit to the coast, or by arranging your own beach clean.

Visit and search for Big Coast Clean Up for more.

Microplastics: what can we do to help?

Each year it is estimated that eight million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year - that's as much as dumping a lorry full of plastic into the ocean each minute. Plastics do not biodegrade, but rather break down into smaller pieces, and eventually, microplastics.

What can we do to reduce the amount of plastics in the environment?

-Avoid products with microbeads before the product ban goes into effect. Look for the words 'polyethylene' or 'polystyrene' on the ingredient label.

-Wash fleece and other synthetic fabrics less often. This also saves water and energy.

-Don't litter, and pick up the litter you see. Take part in beach and other litter cleanups.

-Close the lid on your trash and recycling carts when you place them at the curb.

-Carry and use reusable shopping bags. Say 'no thanks' to single-use plastic bags.

Source: Eco Partners

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