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Pioneering Plymouth Champions World Oceans Day

Pioneering Plymouth Champions World Oceans Day

Britain Ocean’s City’s Scientist Named in TIME100 Health List Is at the Forefront of Pioneering Research and Urges Action to Secure the Futures of Humanity and our Oceans

The world-renowned marine scientist who first coined the term microplastics is urging us all to work together to improve the fragile state of our global seas.

Professor Richard Thompson OBE founder of the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, which has charted the distribution of microplastics from Arctic sea ice to the deep seas, says we all have a responsibility to conserve the oceans. Next month’s World Oceans Day is the perfect time.

“At the University of Plymouth, here in Britain’s Ocean City, we know the futures of humanity and our oceans are inseparable and that urgent action is required to secure them both.”

As director of the university’s Marine Institute, Professor Thompson is at the forefront of pioneering research into the causes and effects of marine litter and defined the word microplastics 20 years ago.

He and his team have demonstrated that just one plastic bag left on a beach can disintegrate into more than 1.75 million fragments. And he says it is likely that, although we only began mass-producing plastics around 60 years ago, all the conventional plastics we’ve produced since then currently remain on the planet unless they’ve been incinerated.

The pioneering research on marine microplastics pollution, its impact on the environment and changing behaviour, by Prof Thompson and his team won the university the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2019. And he has recently been named one of those who have most influenced global health in the past year, selected by TIME magazine to feature in its inaugural TIME100 Health list which recognises the impact, innovation, and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals in health.

“Our world is an ocean planet. Sea water covers around 70% of the earth’s surface and the health of the oceans is fundamental to our existence, supplying food, oxygen, minerals, energy, recreation and helping to regulate the climate we all rely on. Yet for centuries our species has taken these resources for granted, considering them to be inexhaustible. At the same time, we have threatened biodiversity by using the ocean as a place to dump rubbish of all types, shapes and sizes, right the way down to the tiny particles of microplastics I first found in my research two decades ago.

“Increasing levels of industrialisation have separated us as individuals from our oceans, leading us to believe the fish we eat and the rare metals that technology relies upon are simply things that appear in our supermarkets and gadgets, rather than appreciating where they come from. This cannot continue.”

This year’s UN World Oceans Day theme, ‘Awaken New Depths’ is a rallying call to motivate widepsread momentum to protect out seas, something Prof Thompson says we can all get involved in: “World Oceans Day is more than a celebration of our blue planet: it is an opportunity to reflect and reconnect with the marine environment. Critically, it is a reminder that we must work together to help ensure its wonders are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy.

“Plymouth’s relationship with the sea is part of our university’s DNA and why we all work so hard to understand and protect our oceans, not just through our Marine Institute but across every aspect of our institution and through collaborations with partners in our home city and across the planet.

“Our message to the world is that – from individuals to corporations, governments and international bodies – we can all make a difference through our actions in treating the oceans with respect, instead of using them as a dumping ground. We urgently need to use nature’s sources more sustainably and responsibly.”

Plymouth is already leading the charge to protect our seas through innovation in the sector and work including that of Prof Thompson. The city’s National Marine Aquarium is run by the Ocean Conservation Trust and Plymouth Sound National Marine Park – the UK’s first such venture – encourages greater prosperity and engagement with Britain’s marine environment. Both provide a host of educational and entertaining activities highlighting the fragile state of our seas.

Plymouth’s exhibition and archive space, The Box is currently staging an immersive exhibition, curated by the university, showcasing the city’s historical and contemporary links with the ocean. Planet Ocean has been created through collaboration with various ocean conservation organisations including the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Plymouth and centres on themes of plankton, pollution, people and the planet. Through the immersive experience, visitors are instilled with a sense of hope amid the challenges posed by climate change and empowered to advocate for the preservation of our oceans.

Amanda Lumley, Chief Executive of Destination Plymouth says: ”We are incredibly excited about all the opportunities currently available in the city to support knowledge, awareness, and individual understanding of what’s required in order to conserve the Oceans, and we feel Plymouth is at the forefront of very important research.

“Britain’s Ocean City is not just a must-see destination for a wide range of visitors; the creation and development of the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, the progress of multiple conservation initiatives and the key role played by the University of Plymouth, Marine Biological Association and Plymouth Marine Laboratory truly inspire and are paving the way to a better future.

“And this is just one of the many reasons Plymouth is a world-class destination with global appeal. Visit, live, work, and study here; Britain’s Ocean City leads the way with globally recognised expertise for both research and innovation (and a lot of passion), and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this.”