Last week LUX* South Ari Atoll hosted the workshop ‘Microplastics a macro disaster: a threat to the largest fish in our seas?’ led by a team of scientists; Giulia Donati from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and Alina Wieczorek from NUI Galway, in close collaboration with Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme.
Marine biologists and managers from resorts, dive centres and local guest houses all attended the half-day workshop in order to investigate the exposure of whale sharks to microplastics and to exchange further insights and knowledge on the continuous challenges of marine litter within the region.
Recently it has been found that microplastics accumulate in the Indian Ocean in high numbers. Microplastics, defined as any plastic particle less than 5 millimetres in size, have become a pollutant of increasing global concern.
In South Ari Atoll it is believed that endangered whale sharks are likely to be exposed to microplastics when thermoregulating in shallow surface waters, or through transfer from their planktonic prey; most of which are known to ingest microplastics. It has been shown that microplastics can have negative impacts on the fitness of other fish species and it is therefore important to evaluate this threat to whale sharks as well.
The group of scientists have identified a non-invasive method of investigating microplastics ingestion in whale sharks by looking at their faeces. Since 2015, eight faecal samples have successfully been collected in collaboration with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and analysis of these samples has found that whale sharks are indeed ingesting microplastics. This project is a unique opportunity to conduct research on whale sharks, which are regarded as an ‘umbrella’ species for marine conservation. By understanding how microplastics are effecting the largest fish in the sea, we can work to educate people and raise awareness of the impacts of marine litter in our oceans.
The workshop was a great way to bring people together from local islands, resorts and guest houses in order to learn about and discuss the threat that plastic pollution poses to our whale sharks. The results from this investigation so far clearly prove that the sharks are ingesting plastic pollutants and we must now do all we can to help prevent the flow of plastic waste into our oceans, not only for our whale sharks but for our planet, states Mark McMillan, Marine Biologist at LUX* South Ari Atoll.
To read more about this project, please visit www.maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org