The University of Plymouth announced a new cross-Channel research project last week (6th November) which aims to clear our oceans of plastic pollution and looks to prevent marine plastics from infiltrating our waters in the future.
To achieve their aim, Scientists in England and France are set to investigate a number of areas. One of which is to work on developing biodegradable fishing gear that can be used by both small and large boats throughout the industry.
They will also explore new ways to enhance the recycling of collected marine plastic waste, so that it is successfully removed from the ocean, processed properly and doesn’t become a problem once more.
The project has been named INdIGO (INnovative fIshing Gear for Ocean) and has received €2.9million from the Interreg VA France (Channel) England (FCE) European Programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Of that, €540,000 will come to Plymouth researchers who are working alongside our clients at Odyssey Innovation, a Cornish SME that ATI introduced to the University for additional research and innovation support. Together, the project will focus on the recycling of salvaged nets and the establishment of an international recycling network.
Discarded fishing gear and end-of-life nylon nets are a major contributor to ocean plastic waste. Not only do they pose a considerable threat to the marine life that may become entangled within them, but they also destroy fragile seabed ecosystems and break down into smaller pieces that are easily ingested by wildlife. It is these small pieces of plastic, also known as microplastics, which have the potential to find their way into our food chain.
Dr Jasper Graham-Jones, Associate Professor in Mechanical and Marine Engineering, is one of the academics leading the Plymouth element of the project, which will build on the University’s world leading reputation for marine litter research and impact.
He said: “Those in the fishing industry fully appreciate the potential threats posed by marine litter. They also know they have a role to play in tackling it, if they want to protect their livelihoods and enable the industry to become more sustainable. However, they need support to achieve that, and that is where the INdIGO project can make a real difference. There have been a few initiatives looking at this previously, but until now they have been quite small scale. By working with colleagues in the UK and France, and the industry, we can create a positive change on both sides of the Channel.”
Led by the University of South Brittany, the INdIGO project will reduce the total quantity of plastic present in the FCE area by 3% through the development of biodegradable fishing gear, by improving water quality and maintaining biodiversity.
The project will cover the production chain of fishing gear: from formulation and filament manufacturing, to prototyping and net development, with durability tests, technical and economic analysis then being undertaken. Researchers will also complete a life cycle analysis to avoid pollution transfer, while the involvement of SMEs will ensure the economic sustainability of the project by exploiting the results of the project.
Using expertise from within the sector will enable INdIGO to develop products that are adapted to the needs of the market and are competitive with current alternatives, while reducing their impact on the environment.
Dr Graham-Jones added:
“The South West of England is home to one of the biggest fishing communities along the English Channel so we are perfectly placed to tackle this issue. But it will require a massive cultural shift. It was once normal to leave discarded nets at sea, but now there is a growing recognition that it is dangerous for divers but also has a long-lasting impact on the ocean and the creatures living within it. We have to be able to persuade people to bring their nets home, and one way to do that could be to convert disused nets into some other product that people will want.”
Image above of an Odyssey Innovation Kayak, off to collect more of the ocean plastics and discarded fishing gear that is recycled and used to make them.