ES 201 - The Mediterranean: a Plastic Sea
The primary aim of this course is to provide a current and comprehensive overview on issues related to plastic pollution at a global level, focusing on plastic accumulation in the Mediterranean Sea. The course explores the many open questions concerning the accumulation, distribution and fate of plastic litter and implications for marine wildlife and humans. A historical synopsis of marine pollution research is provided to appreciate the rapid development of this research field, especially in relation to microplastics. The various primary and secondary sources on microplastics and the pathways through the environment to the ecosystem are examined. Due to the small size and variety of plastic polymers, the detection, identification, and quantification of microplastics are challenging at present; for this purpose, a critical appraisal of the main methods and procedures for the sampling of plastic litter and its composition are evaluated and applied to a specific case study. Chemical, biological, and ecological implications of plastic pollution are also analyzed to allow students to evaluate the deleterious effects on marine wildlife.
The course prepares students to read scientific literature in a critical and objective way, considering the comparability of results obtained from different studies. It provides a deep understanding of the magnitude of plastic pollution in surface waters of the Mediterranean basin as well as a comparison with plastic accumulation in open oceans. The course also covers other specific topics such as plastic aging and degradation; propagation over trophic levels of the marine food web; toxicants associated with plastic debris and how they may affect marine life and human health. The course also considers how plastics compare with other anthropogenic pollutants in terms of ecological risk and the role of society in tackling this matter, with a special focus on procedures to reduce the input of litter into oceans.