Presentation: African Flowers – Wind driven plastic pollution in deserts & oceans

TopicWind driven plastic pollution in deserts & oceans
Presented by Professor Anne Mather
DateTuesday 16th July 2019
TimeAt 6pm
PlaceSwakopmund Museum Lecture Hall

On Tuesday the 16th of July 2019 at 6pm Professor Anne Mather of the University of Plymouth will be presenting a Lecture on her research into wind driven plastic pollution in desert and ocean environments. The talk will be held in English.

The Topic

Professors Anne Mather and Matt Telfer from the Univesity of Plymouth, together with Professor Richard Thompson and Dr Isabel Richter are working in Namibia on a collaborative Project with Gobabeb Research Station (Namibia) and Ibn Zohr University (Morocco) to understand Wind blown plastic pollution in deserts.

The study of plastic pollution, which includes macro (plastic bags, bottles), micro (broken down, sand-sized plastic particles) and nano plastics (dust-sized particles such as clothes fibres) is well-developed for marine, and some fluvial environments in areas such as temperate Europe and North America.

However, the transport and breakdown of plastics in desert environments and the southern hemisphere (e.g. Africa and Latin and South America) has not received such focus, with only one or two scientific publications on associated problems. Desert environments offer very different challenges. For example, deserts are often characterized by closed and ephemeral (dry) rivers which never reach the ocean, they have very different frequency/magnitude of transport routes (e.g. rivers may only have water in them once every few years) and a greatly increased role for aeolian (wind-related) processes.

Plastic pollution is rife within deserts, and characterised by the iconic “African flowers” – plastic bags caught in thorny dryland trees. Depending on the environment, the plastic pollution may be generated from agriculture (e.g. polytunnels), industry (e.g. mining), tourism and domestic refuse (e.g. plastic water bottles/carrier bags). This pollution has adverse effects on ecosystems, the aesthetic value of wilderness areas, and in some regions may be a factor in wider health issues by contributing to airborne dust pollution and providing suitable mosquito breeding grounds. Although there is recognition by policy makers of the dryland plastic risk in some countries, highlighting the significance of this issue, the scientific literature required to underpin effective action in deserts is absent, and policies taken are not always effective.

For instance, plastic bag bans have made no difference to plastic bag usage or in some cases increased it across Africa, and some policies are difficult to enforce effectively. The research team from the University of Plymouth has an established record in desert research (Prof Anne Mather, Dr Matt Telfer) and marine plastics (Prof Richard Thompson and Dr Isabel Richter) and will be working in conjunction with people in Namibia to the first scientifically-informed understanding of the nature, process, materials and impacts of plastic pollution in dryland environments.

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