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Turning back the plastic tide

Plastic waste on a beach

Ecologist and university lecturer Dannielle Green wanted to save marine life from the scourge of microplastics. At ARU, she's seeing her research translated into official policy.

When I was little I saw a documentary about all the terrible things that happen to sharks because of humans. It had such an impact on my young self that my dream soon became to save the world. Or, at least, a small part of it.

Years later, after finishing a Marine Science degree in Sydney, that desire to save the world took me to Ireland for a PhD on invasive species and then on to a post-doc research role on micro plastics. It's amazing that little plastic beads from cosmetics flowing into the ocean should even be a field of research, but people keep finding increasingly creative ways of messing up the world. Incredibly my research contributed to a bill being passed that will ban microbeads by 2020. Undertaking good research is one thing, but to see it taking effect feels like I’m achieving what I set out to do.

Before long I was packing my bags again after a lecturer position at ARU tempted me away. Since I’ve been here at ARU it feels like opportunities have opened up for me. Marine conservation seems to have captured the public interest recently, with videos of plastic straws stuck up turtles' noses and fish bellies full of plastic going viral, and being here has helped me spread the word through radio interviews and even on the Naked Scientist podcast.

I’ve been at ARU for little more than a year, but already my students are undertaking all kinds of amazing environmental research projects. One is even looking at micro plastics in bird poop. If that isn’t dedication to a cause then I don’t know what is!

It seems that working on live projects is quite an appeal for undergrads, I’ve actually had more applications to work with me that I can accept at the moment. They seem genuinely motivated about wanting to do good, which is so commendable in such young people, and can only be a positive sign for the future. We’re also applying for a grant to bring in PhD students on research projects and are slowly building quite a team.

ARU is truly allowing both the students and myself to follow the ideals that motivated us to study these kinds of courses in the first place, and give us the chance to save the world, even if it is one plastic bag at a time.

Dr Dannielle Green is an Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences at ARU in Cambridge.

Read more about research at ARU or explore research degrees.