Small Particles, Big Problem: Exploring Microplastics in Catalonia’s Beaches
Marina Pujadas (UAB) – 20th of June 2023
On the 18th of May, amidst sunny and pleasant weather, we were invited to observe a microplastics activity led by around 30 students from the school Institut Manuel Raspall in Cardedeu. This activity took place at Platja dels Pescadors (Fishermen’s Beach) in Badalona, and the participants delved into the world of microplastics, aiming to raise awareness to their impact on our beaches.
To conduct the analysis, the students were divided into 10 groups of 3, and their first task was to sample the area closest to the sea, following the horizontal coastal line. In total, there were 10 sampling spots labelled as “A,” with each spot assigned a unique number (A1, A2, A3…). The students positioned themselves 10 meters apart from each other and marked their respective sampling spots using strings or pieces of cardboard. Each of these 10 sampling spots were squares of 50×50 cm.
Once the sampling spots were clearly marked, the students proceeded with great care to collect the top centimetre of sand from the designated spots. They used small shovels to gradually gather the sand, taking small scoops and placing it into a tray instead of scooping the entire square at once.
After each scoop of sand was collected, the students diligently focused on the task of separating the microplastics from the sand. They carefully examined the collected sand, picking out any plastic fragments they came across.
The separated plastic pieces were then collected and stored in a bag, while the sand itself was left outside the sampling spot. This meticulous process was repeated until the entire designated square had been thoroughly analysed. Each sampling spot had its own bag, which was labelled with the name of the spot (A1, A2, A3…) and the coordinates.
After completing the sampling of the “A” spots, the students proceeded further inland towards the middle part of the beach to continue their analysis. Following the same process, this time they designated these spots as “B.”
After finishing the thorough sampling process, the students were rewarded with a well-deserved break to enjoy the beach and relax before returning home. Prior to leaving, they took photographs of the waste bins to analyse their contents later.
But the activity didn’t end at the beach! Once they returned to their school, the students analysed in their laboratory the plastics they had found, weighting and categorizing them. Finally, they created a sculpture with the plastics they had collected.