Microplastic Pollution in Waterways

This study aims to isolate and identify indigenous microbial assemblages that could degrade the microplastics present in the water and sediments of Lake Illawarra.

Pollution of water by microplastics is a far-reaching problem. For marine life, it can lead to the ingestion by microscopic aquatic life, leading to starvation of parts of ecosystems and the ingestion of particles by seafood species. While human consumption of microplastics has not been thoroughly explored, it is known that many types of microplastics bind and accumulate highly toxic pollutants.

This study seeks to assess the potential for bacteria or fungi to degrade these plastics, to find suitable candidate strains that may be used to reduce microplastic contamination.

Field work will be conducted from sites in and around Lake Illawarra. Through filtration of water and collecting sediment, microplastics will be extracted, quantified and identified, establishing an enriched microplastic-degrading culture.


The team

This multidisciplinary project will involve collaboration from researchers in the EIS, SMAH and BAL faculties.

Hugh Forehead, Research Fellow, SMART Infrastructure Facility (EIS) will lead the project. He will focus on the investigation of candidate endemic microorganisms for degrading microplastics in waterways and their application.

Faisal I. Hai, Associate Professor, Director/Strategic Water Infrastructure Laboratory (EIS) will lead microplastics biodegradation assessment.

Ashley Ansari (ECR) Strategic Water Infrastructure Laboratory (EIS) will be responsible for microplastics analysis/quantification.

Pascal Perez, Senior Professor, SMART Infrastructure Facility (EIS) will be building on SMART’s current connections, facilitating collaboration between University, community and the councils.

Martina Sanderson-Smith, Associate Professor, Illawarra Health & Medical Research Institute, (SMAH) Will lead microbial community analysis.

Karen Raubenheimer (ECR), Research Fellow, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security (BAL) will lead the evaluating of public attitudes to a range of ways that might be used to reduce domestic generation of microplastics.

Nuwanthi Punam Kristhombuge, HDR (EIS) will conduct laboratory experiments and microplastics and microbial community analysis of lake water. She will also present the findings of the project at a domestic conference.


This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:


Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation   Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production   Goal 14: Life Below Water   Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals