Tracking the journeys of plastic in oceans
March 21, 2019
A new digital tool that tracks how far plastic waste can travel in the ocean was demonstrated in Lower Hutt this week.
Using modelling data for the Cook Strait, Tasman and Golden Bays, Project 1.5.4 combines tide, winds and currents into a computer simulation in which virtual “plastic” can be dropped into the ocean and its journey traced.
Scientist Heni Unwin, who is part of the team that made the interactive tool, presented it to the public at the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library as part of Seaweek and the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.
Unwin (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Atihaunui-a-Papaarangi) from independent science organisation Cawthron Institute brings expertise in marine biology, chemistry and Māori studies to her work on the project.
Unwin hopes it will raise awareness about the volume of plastic in the oceans.
“People tend to think of plastic waste as being out of sight, out of mind. They don’t think about where it goes.”
She said the idea originated with a popular computer simulation that showed how far a rubber duck can travel.
Unwin has presented the programme at schools around the country and said kids “loved it”.
“I wanted them to think critically about what was going on in the simulation as well as enjoy using it.”
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research communications manager Meredith Cooke said it is an invaluable resource for students studying marine pollution.
“This kind of tool could eventually help to manage the impact of plastics in our marine environment.”
The Sustainable Seas challenge includes 40 projects throughout New Zealand and involves 222 researchers working towards future sustainability.