Hull researchers head to the Mekong to tackle plastic pollution

The Mekong River in Southeast Asia is one of the world’s great waterways, fertile and ecologically diverse with millions relying on it for their food, but it’s increasingly clogged with plastic pollution.

To help address the mounting problem, a team of researchers from the University of Hull are documenting how plastic travels down the river, from Laos to Vietnam and into the ocean.

Called ‘River of Plastic’ it is the first study systematic study of plastic transportation in the mega-river. Previous research has shown that the top 10 most polluting rivers contribute the majority of the plastic that ends up in the world’s oceans.

Researchers hope to use the data to develop new models that predict the distribution of plastic waste in rivers and as it enters the ocean. They say this will be crucial for future predicting how plastic travels through global rivers systems as well as how different sources of plastic enters the marine environment.

As well as looking at plastic transportation, the team will also help local communities across the Mekong Basin produce their own videos and messages which will capture their relationship with plastic.

Dr Chris Hackney from the University of Hull said: ‘Different plastics have different densities, although currently unquantified, this results in plastic being transported at different depths in rivers, and ultimately oceans.

‘Less than 1% is found at the surface, whilst the remaining 99%  is unaccounted for. Quantifying plastic distribution with depths is key to understanding its source and how it is transported in rivers and oceans.’

The University of Hull has built close ties with Vietnam in recent years, with a particular focus on building agricultural resilience in the face of climate change and other man-made factors.

Last year, Environment Journal spoke to Professor Dan Parsons about a project working alongside academics from Can Tho University understanding sediment discharge in the Mekong Delta.

The Delta is one of the most agriculturally fertile areas in the world, in part due to the deposition of sediments down the Mekong River over thousands of years.

These sediments have helped make the Delta one of the largest rice-producing regions in the world but its ecosystem is under threat due to climate change as well as man-made interventions such as the proliferation of hydropower dams further up the Mekong River and sand mining.

It could have serious economic consequences for the region as an estimated 30 million people depend on the Mekong Basin for their livelihoods.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


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