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The project is one of four to receive a share of £6 million to reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in Southeast Asia's marine ecosystems.

Project to investigate Southeast Asia plastic pollution

Researchers have launched an ambitious project to discover the impacts of plastic pollution in the oceans of Southeast Asia – and how the problem might be tackled.

An international team led by the University of Exeter and the National University of Singapore has been awarded a grant to investigate "risks and solutions".

The project – which will focus on Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand – is one of four to receive a share of £6 million to reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in Southeast Asia's marine ecosystems.

The investment comes from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF), with UK Government funding supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

"Our project will assess the life cycle and dispersal of plastics in water, sediment and coastal habitats, looking at key categories of plastic pollution to identify where it comes from," said Professor Brendan Godley, who leads the Exeter Marine research group.

"We will examine the impacts of plastic on fish, shellfish and other wildlife, and its transfer to the human food chain.

"We will also investigate possible solutions – focused on preventing plastic reaching the marine environment, or recovery of plastic from the environment."

Dr Suresh Valiyaveettil, of the National University of Singapore, added: "Our vision is to reduce the impact of plastic pollution in the Southeast Asian region and to identify and test key interventions to support the development of a more sustainable, circular resource flow.

"Efforts are focussed in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as these are high users of plastics and benefit from marine ecosystem services (benefits to humans from the natural environment).

"Working at this scale will, for the first time, allow us to properly understand sources and impacts at a regional level."

The team includes Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Zoological Society of London, Sunway University (Malaysia) and Chulalongkorn University (Thailand).

The project is scheduled to last for three years, but the team hope to create a "legacy" lasting well beyond this period.

It is entitled: "Risks and Solutions: Marine Plastics in Southeast Asia – RaSP-SEA."

Speaking about the four projects that have been awarded funding, NERC Executive Chair Professor Sir Duncan Wingham said: “Plastic pollution is a growing threat to marine environments across the globe.

"These innovative projects will not only help us understand the impact plastic has on marine ecosystems in Southeast Asia but they could also find solutions to this challenge."

Date: 22 October 2020