I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Environmental Sciences from the University of Salamanca (Spain) in 2014. My degree gave me a broad understanding of how ecosystems work and the current and future environmental challenges for the planet. After graduating, I undertook what I now know has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I travelled to Cape Verde (West Africa) to volunteer on a loggerhead turtle conservation project. There I learned anything and everything about turtles, conservation techniques and the Cape Verdian culture. However, what unexpectedly changed my life was, sadly, a very heavy storm that destroyed most of our turtle nests and left the virgin beach full of plastic litter. I felt amazed and worried about the environmental degradation, and I knew I had found my passion. Later in 2014, I graduated with an MSc degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation from Reading University (England). In Reading I had the chance to research and write my master’s thesis on microplastic pollution and the bioaccumulation in the marine food chain.
If my BSc (Hons) gave me a broad understanding of environmental issues and ecosystem interactions, my MSc taught me how to be a critical scientist. It also fuelled me to start my personal fight against plastic pollution. So in 2015 I decided to open up a blog “The Problem with Plastic”, to show the public what’s happening and how small changes in our lives can make big differences. Over 2016, I dedicated my spare time to volunteer for a British environmental organisation called “City to Sea Bristol” to prevent plastic entering the rivers and seas. Volunteering has been key in my development as an environmentalist which also brought me to visit the Galapagos Islands last year. There I got the opportunity to join “Ecology Project International” and not only help the team to conserve the Galapagos Green turtle but also to advise them on plastic pollution. Living for a short period of time in the Galapagos Islands was a dream come true and the perfect experience just before starting a PhD.
I am particularly interested in the impacts that plastics and microplastics have in ecosystems, especially in ecologically relevant and/or endangered species. My MSc thesis looked at the uptake and adsorption of plastic beads, in order to understand how microplastics can be accumulated in the marine food chain. My PhD project, entitled Impacts of Microplastics on the Irish Freshwater Environment, focuses on the ecotoxicological impacts of environmental relevant microplastics across different freshwater organisms. It is also focused on the fate of microplastics and aquatic trophic mobility.
The data generated, will inform policy-makers, enabling development of targeted legislative approaches on microplastic pollution. Also, I truly believe that becoming a successful scientist goes beyond a thesis and publishing papers. I believe that the other side of being a scientist is to communicate and “to translate” your findings in a way that the general public can appreciate. This is why, I am also very interested in science communication and public awareness.
Alicia Mateos- Cárdenas, Bioaccumulation of microplastics in the amphipod Gammarus locusta and the macroalgae Fucus serratus and Ulva lactuca: A potential route for plastic fragments into the marine food chain (unpublished Master of Science thesis, University of Reading, 2015)