Last January, a collaboration was initiated between the International Center for Palearal Coral Reefs (ICCRP) and the Monaco Scientific Center (MSC) to study the risk of microplastic pollution to the marine environment. This project, co-financed by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, addresses a global problem.

Pollution of the world’s seas with plastic debris is no longer just a problem for marine organisms living near coastal areas, as ocean currents have distributed plastic waste to the most remote areas. While the widespread presence of large marine debris is a problem for marine life, microplastics pose an environmental risk of growing concern.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles from the breakdown of large plastic debris, but also care products or synthetic textiles, where they are found in the form of microbeads/microfibres. Since plastic particles are not biodegradable, they persist in the environment and can have severe consequences for marine life. These plastics, which are now found in the stomach of almost all marine organisms, contain and accumulate chemical toxins.

To carry out the first study of pollution in coral reef microplastics and to evaluate the potential risks for the environment, two researchers of the CSM, Dr. Eric Béraud and Vanessa Bednarz, of the Coral Ecophysiology team, led by Dr. Christine Ferrier-Pagès, travelled from 11 to 29 March 2019 in Palau.

During this work, around 100 plastic samples were collected at 7 different sites; at sea, on the beaches and in the coral sediment. These samples will be analyzed in detail at the CSM laboratory. This mission was also the occasion of numerous exchanges between the researchers of the CSM and those of the team of the doctor Yimnang Golbuu of the PICRC, involved in the study.

On the initiative of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which is very active in raising public awareness of the major issues of sustainable development, Monegasque researchers also gave a conference for the Paluane community. This made it possible to draw the first conclusions as regards the observations made in the field, in particular concerning the absence of macro marine plastic waste on the sites visited, a small quantity of micro-plastics visible to the naked eye (size millimetre) in sediments, but unfortunately a large quantity and diversity of macro-plastics on beaches, even those regularly cleaned.

In the coming months, the collaboration will continue with the hosting, within the CSM laboratory, of a researcher from CIBRC to conduct experiments on the effects of plastic contaminants on the physiology and health of corals.

Ultimately, the results of this collaboration between Palau and Monaco will help to improve our understanding of the harmful mechanisms of microplastic pollution on the health of coral reefs and to inform and educate local communities about plastic pollution to develop management strategies to preserve these valuable reef ecosystems.