06. March 2013 Do Microplastics harm Marine Organisms?

The research and training program GAME begins its eleventh project

The growing quantity of plastic waste in the sea is a problem that applies to all oceans in equal measure. The research and training program GAME at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, which is now in its eleventh project, will study the effects of miniscule plastic particles on coastal ecosystems around the world.  This week the participating students from seven countries are meeting in Kiel at GEOMAR for the first time.


Whether as synthetic fibers, as casings for electronic devices or as packaging for food – a life without plastics is hard to imagine today. Plastics are cheap to produce and practical in use. However when it comes to their disposal plastics demonstrate a dangerous side. Most plastics are very difficult to recycle, are not compostable and barely degradable. Therefore, in many parts of the world, used plastic items simply land in the garbage. Traveling through rivers and beaches they eventually land in the ocean where they remain for centuries. Waves, friction by rocks or by other floating refuse cause the individual parts to become smaller until they are no longer visible to the naked eye. This increases the danger for animals, as they are more likely to absorb these particles.

The exact consequence of these so called microplastics for the coastal ecosystems around the world is the focus of the study and training program of GAME at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, going into its eleventh project. For the first time, the participants will meet in Kiel this week in order to prepare for the experiments planned over the next four weeks. “This year there are 14 students from seven nations participating,” says program coordinator Dr. Mark Lenz from GEOMAR, “and with a student from Mexico, another partner country has joined the GAME network.”

The highlights for the GAME students include a reception at Kiel’s town hall. “We are pleased to welcome so many enthusiastic students from around the world to Kiel and we wish them good luck with their upcoming scientific research,” says the city’s vice president Rainer Tschorn. He also wishes them a good time in Kiel outside of work.

Until the end of March, the students will get to know the basics of the experimental set up and prepare for the project. In April they will travel in teams of two, each with a German and a foreign student, to the respective partner countries where they will carry out experiment to examine the effects of microplastics in the particular ecosystem. During the practical experiments, they will be supervised by experienced scientists from the partner institutes.

In September and October, all participants will return to GEOMAR to evaluate the results. “The question of how the intense use of plastics in all habitats affects the environment is becoming increasingly more urgent. Nonetheless there is barely any research being carried out on the consequences of microplastics for the marine environment in coastal areas. With our global experiment we are breaking new scientific ground,” says Dr. Lenz. For the students the project is simultaneously an important step in their scientific career as it prepares them for a scientific path and provides the data for their master’s theses.


Dr. Mark Lenz (GEOMAR, FB3 Benthos Ecology)

Jan Steffen (GEOMAR, Communication & Media), Tel.: +49 431 600-2811