The Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) is collaborating on a project—funded by Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation—with the Scientific Center of Monaco (CSM) to assess potential environmental risks that derive from plastic pollution.

On March 2019, CSM researchers, Dr. Vanessa Bednars and Dr. Eric Béraud, visited Palau and worked with PICRC researchers to collect samples within five meters from the surface of the water. At the same time, sediments were collected from several beaches. The collection of samples was carried out at five different sites in Palau—one on the east coast, one on the west coast, and three within Koror State. After filtering the samples, only the finest sediments were taken back to Monaco to be analyzed for the presence of microplastics. Preliminary findings show presence of microplastic particles in all samples collected.

Microplastics are a growing environmental concern. As plastic particles that have degraded from larger plastics, microplastics can sometimes be so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Given their size, these chemical toxins present risks to our marine ecosystems as they are easily introduced into our food-web systems.

On September 09, 2019, PICRC researcher, Evelyn Ikelau Otto, left for a three week-long trip to Monaco. During her visit to Monaco, researcher Otto worked with Dr. Vanessa Bednars and Dr. Sarah Choyke, Associate Research Chemist at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a series of laboratory experiments with Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). PFOS are highly pollutant fluorosurfactants present in fire retardants including carpets, textiles and plastics. The study involved the exposure of coral fragments to different concentrations of PFOS to determine the amount of substance absorbed by the corals. At the same time, after being exposed to PFOS, the corals were reinstated to their normal conditions to determine whether or not they were able to expel the chemical from their body.

The analysis of the microplastic samples collected in Palau is still not complete. The finalized results of this collaboration, however, will be of great significance as we continue to assess the extent at which plastic is negatively impacting our environment. PICRC continues its commitment to perform research, raise awareness and find solutions to the plastic pollution crisis that our world is facing. (PR)