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Tabor Senior Studies Micro-Plastics in Local Ecosystem

Charlie Widing ’18 came to Tabor, as many of our students do, with a real love for the sea. He found his interest in Marine Biology while attending a summer program at the Island School in Eleuthera, Bahamas. The semester and summer program is devoted to teaching students about ecology and sustainability using the marine environment to engage in project based learning.

At the Island School, Widing had the opportunity to aid PhD candidates who conduct their research at The Cape Eleuthera Institute. He became captivated by their work studying micro-plastics in the ocean and its effects on fish. The study indicated a very high rate of plastic ingestion; almost a third of dissected fish had micro-plastic in their digestive track. At Tabor, he resolved to plan a similar project as an Independent Study for his senior year.

After developing his ideas with Jay Cassista, Director of Marine Science, and gaining approval from Eileen Marceau, Dean of Studies, Widing set off this fall to review the scientific literature, which helped broaden his knowledge about the issue. Additionally, he and Cassista developed a procedure to dissect game fish and measure micro-plastics found within them. "Charles shows great passion for this project, and is working diligently to produce a procedure that will provide accurate and significant data." shared Cassista.

The pair experimented with different species to fine tune their procedure, and have decided to limit their inquiry into economically important game fish sourced from local fishermen. This winter, they hope to dissect a sample of 50 or more fish. Cassista shared that in similar graduate level research, a sample size of approximately 30 proved adequate.

The first four dissections included a variety of local fish, including Black Sea Bass and Atlantic Mackerel.  There were no noticeable micro-plastics found within those fish. The first fish to contain micro-plastics in the study was a Bonita, caught by a fellow Tabor senior, Andrew Kleinfeld ’18, who is an avid fisherman and shark tagger.  After following the procedure, Widing, who is conducting the dissections, identifies and measures the quantity and size of the plastics.  The discovery of the plastics in the Bonita marked the first data entry into his log for a fish with the ingested particles. It was a bittersweet feeling.

The study is important because plastics absorb persistent organic pollutants that assimilate themselves into the muscle of fish. Widing is hoping to raise awareness about this potential health impact to consumers, as well as to fish, as a way to further motivate people to reduce the use of plastics in their day-to-day life.

“Coming to Tabor has been an amazing opportunity to continue my academic interests in the field of Marine Biology. Entering into this supportive community is the reason that I have been able to conduct such an ambitious study. If it wasn’t for Tabor, my curiosity of plastic pollution and anthropogenic waste might have never been further explored,” shared Widing.  

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