MICROPLASTICS AND PLASTIC WASTE IN THE IOWA GREAT LAKES AS A FOCUS FOR OUTDOOR EXPERIENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
Considerable recent research has documented the nearly ubiquitous presence of microplastic fragments in oceans and freshwater aquatic settings; in soils, in fish, birds, and soil organisms; and even within plants. Starting from personal experiences involving balloons and other plastic waste on East Coast beaches, and an interest in the effects of ingestion of indigestible plastics by sea birds and sea turtles, I discovered a deep interest in the topic among students and the public. After initiating an affiliation with Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in 2018, I recognized that no work had been done on microplastic waste in the Iowa Great Lakes area.
Since 2018, a number of student projects have been carried out, and in most cases, students have selected their topic area. These projects have built upon one another, in a sort of serial collaboration, involving students from K-12 to undergraduate college level, and both in-person and remote learners. So far, while we have collected and documented various discarded plastic waste materials in the areas studied, we have yet to successfully sample aquatic microplastics. This has provided opportunities to learn from negative results, and suggests directions and methodologies to pursue in potential future work.