Tara-JAMBIO: a new study of microplastics in Japan

© N.Pansiot / Fondation Tara Océan

After studying microplastic pollution in the major rivers of Europe, the Tara Ocean Foundation is now launching a similar research mission along the coasts of Japan, in collaboration with the Japanese Association for Marine Biology (JAMBIO).

Since 2003, the research sailboat Tara has been traveling the world studying the impact of climate change on the Ocean. From May to November 2019, Tara sailed along the 4 maritime facades of Europe, studying the plastic pollution in 9 major European rivers: the Thames, Elbe, Rhine, Seine, Ebro, Rhone, Tiber, Garonne and Loire. This ongoing research is accomplished in partnership with 17 laboratories coordinated by the CNRS. During the 2019 Microplastics Mission, the scientists aboard Tara— biologists, ecotoxicologists, chemists, physicists, oceanographers and modelers— collected 2,700 samples from 45 specially designated sites, between land and sea.

The precise objectives of this unprecedented mission were to: identify the sources of pollution, understand the fragmentation of microplastics in rivers, predict their dispersion towards the ocean, and define their toxicity & impacts on marine biodiversity & the food chain. The first results show that absolutely 100% of the collected samples contain microplastics: microbeads and other “secondary microplastics” measuring less than 5mm, similar to the estimated 5,000 billion pieces or particles of plastic floating on the surface of the Ocean. According to Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Ocean Foundation, « this vast proportion of microplastics, already impossible to collect at sea and transported by our watersheds and rivers, makes cleaning the rivers impossible. Solutions to stopping this hemorrhage are definitely on land ».

The coral team headed out for afternoon dive in Chichijima Island Japan_Photo Credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A3885 2 (1) - copieScientific team of the Tara Pacific mission heading for a coral dive in Chichijima Bay, Japan © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Ocean Foundation

The first Tara-JAMBIO mission on microplastics in Japan

Already well-established in Japan, the Tara Ocean Foundation will launch this year a relatively similar series of studies on microplastic pollution along the coasts of the archipelago, in cooperation with the national network JAMBIO (Japanese Association for Marine Biology) founded in 2009.

Created by the Shimoda Marine Research Center (University of Tsukuba), and the Center for Marine Biology (Tohoku University), this network brings together 21 marine stations from Hokkaido to Okinawa, with research infrastructures located on all coasts of the archipelago. Its scientists and those of the Tara Ocean Foundation (with support from Tara’s partners, Veolia and agnès b.) will draw upon their common experience in conducting studies over large oceanic areas, for example, the coral sampling accomplished by the schooner in Japanese waters during the Tara Pacific expedition (February-April 2017). The new mission will investigate plastic pollution— microplastics, micrometric particles and nanoplastics— in Japanese waters. « We hope that other partners will join us and help, with their expertise and funds, to amplify this mission », says Romain Troublé.

Our objective is to assess plastic pollution and its potential impacts on the biodiversity of Japan’s coastal waters, known for their high concentration of microplastics, and also for their rich biodiversity. « It’s also a question of raising awareness about the environmental catastrophe of plastic pollution in Japanese waters, and the threats this pollution poses to the oceans », emphasizes Sylvain Agostini, researcher at the Shimoda Marine Station (affiliated with University of Tsukuba). Japan is at the northern end of a «plastic pollution hotspot», which, carried out to the open sea, feeds the «Pacific garbage patch», the famous vortex of trash located in the north Pacific Ocean.

Determine flows and potential impacts on marine life

Starting in April 2020, the Tara-JAMBIO mission will collect samples at several marine stations, among others: Akkeshi (University of Hokkaido); Oki (University of Shimane); Asamushi Research Center (Tohoku University); Tateyama Laboratory (Marine and Coastal Research Center, University of Ochanomizu); Shimoda Research Center (University of Tsukuba). Each sampling campaign will last 3 to 4 days, including research and educational events.

A common protocol decided according to international guidelines, and validated by the Shimoda Research Center, will be used for the sampling of microplastics in the water column and sediments, in order to determine their quantity and identify the microorganisms that colonize them. Analysis of the collected samples will take place in various partner laboratories, including the lab of researcher/ bio-computer scientist Hiroyuki Ogata (University of Kyoto) who has been working with the Tara Oceans consortium since 2013.

Ultimately, this new mission will involve assessing and defining the flows and potential impacts of plastic pollution on local marine life around the Japanese archipelago. In line with the provisions decided by the G20 in Osaka in June 2019: « Marine litter is a problem requiring urgent action in view of its harmful impacts on ecosystems ».

With thanks to the JAMBIO network (Japanese Association for Marine Biology) and Veolia

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