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Monitoring Microplastics, their Associated Chemicals and their Effects in Irish Deep Water Coral Habitats (Plast_Chem_Cora)

Although microplastic pollution is ubiquitous, accurate quantification is still required and plastic associated chemicals from environmental samples remain largely unexplored. Given the difficulties associated with deep water data acquisition (e.g. costly and opportunistic sampling, weather dependency and engineering restrictions), much of the research carried out on marine plastics to date are either restricted by low spatial or temporal resolution, are isolated studies or are subject-specific in nature due to a lack a multidisciplinary approach. Deep-water microplastic monitoring is treated like a black-box system, an area of science still in its infancy even though the deep sea is estimated to be the major global microplastic hotspot.

Preliminary video data collected by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from an earlier project led by the team previously showed that large plastic items are abundant, especially fishing items, in deep water Irish coral reefs from the protected sites Porcupine Bank Canyon (PBC) and Moira Mounds (MM).

This new project led by Dr. Alicia Mateos Cárdenas expands on such previous knowledge of the area and focusses on microplastics and their associated chemicals. The project  integrates a multidisciplinary approach with a large spatial range, temporal resolution and novel methodologies. Thus, by combining the topics of plastic pollution, chemical analysis and coral conservation the team expects to better understand what impacts are plastics having in protected deep sea areas.

Microplastics and their associated chemicals will be analysed from samples collected in these SACs by the team’s Benthic Lander systems and sediment traps during 2019, 2020 and 2021. QA/QC techniques are given special importance to ensure the reliability of the analytical results produced. The duration of the project is of 36 months.


1: accurately quantify the abundance and fate of microplastics and their associated chemicals in deep sea Irish canyons

2: the interactions and impacts to the health of cold-water corals present in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)

3: the potential cause for observed variability throughout time



Dr Alicia Mateos Cárdenas – Postdoctoral Fellow

Prof Andy Wheeler – Co-PI

Dr Aaron Lim – Co-PI

Funded by

Marine Institute Post-Doctoral Fellowship Programme 

Marine Geosciences Research Group

University College Cork

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, North Mall Campus, University College Cork, North Mall, Cork City, T23 TK30