Sampling for microplastics with the Wānaka community

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A little bit of rain, a little bit of sunshine and a whole lot of sampling for microplastics! We had so much fun hosting a microplastics community event along the Wānaka lakefront last Saturday.

The event was a celebration of community engagement, scientific exploration and proactive measures against plastic pollution in our waterways. We had over 50 people of all ages, locals and visitors alike, come by for a morning of discovery and hands-on action.

people attending a community event in the park sampling for microplastics
people by the lakeside filtering water for microplastics
“Participants had a unique opportunity to step into the shoes of a researcher and try their hand at sampling for microplastics along the lakefront or at the headwaters of Bullock Creek. It was great to see so many people interested in learning more about the health of our roto” – Jaylene (WAI Wānaka education team)

Here’s a glimpse into the highlights of the event:

Scientific Exploration

Event goers grabbed metal buckets and glass jars and headed to the lakefront to have a go at sampling for microplastics in Lake Wānaka. Using the same methods marine scientist/PhD student Veronica Rotman does for our research project A Teeny Tiny Truth. The enthusiasm was palpable as attendees examined their findings under our microscope, unravelling the hidden world of tiny fibres and colourful bits the naked eye could not see.

sampling for microplastics
sampling for microplastics

Using a sieve to filter a water sample taken from the Lake Wānaka wharf.

Somebody viewing a dish of lakewater under a microscope to see if there are any microplastics in it
Somebody viewing a dish of lakewater under a microscope to see if there are any microplastics in it

Looking at water samples under the microscope to see if there are any microplastics present. A lot of colourful fibres and tiny plastic bits were identified during our investigations.

Naming the ‘Manta Trawl’

We had the mighty Manta Trawl – a large piece of equipment used for microplastics sampling – on display at the event, with a call out for attendees to help us name this device.

The top 5 name ideas we got were:

  • Mob the Manta (named after the Manta ray’s scientific name Mobula birostris)
  • Marg the Mighty Manta
  • Max the Manta
  • Tony the Trawler
  • Penelope the Plastic Gobler

And the winner is….. Mob the Manta! A tribute to the very animal that this device is designed after, Mobula birostris (Giant oceanic manta ray).

Mob the Manta in action
Mob the Manta in action

Lakefront Rubbish Pick-up

Those with an eye for detail took to the lakefront to conduct a rubbish pick-up. Lots of plastic fragments were found amongst the sand, rocks and driftwood. All rubbish collected was categorised and recorded onto Keep New Zealand Beautiful’s ‘Upstream Battle’ data sheets. At the end of the event we bagged up and chucked our rubbish into Tāne the Tuna, the Wao Summit’s large longfin eel sculpture currently living at the lakefront. Thanks Tāne!

Plastic rubbish collected at the Wānaka lakefront
person collecting rubbish at the lakefront
record sheet for Upstream Battle

Community Collaboration

A massive thank-you goes out to Plastic Free Wānaka, SUCfree Wānaka, Wānaka Wastebusters and Friends of Bullock Creek for joining in on our event, as well as providing interactive displays and engaging learning tools related to plastic-free swaps and stormwater awareness. Groups like these are a huge reason our community has begun to shift towards a plastic-free lifestyle.

Mathilda and Emma from Wānaka Wastebusters and Plastic Free Wānaka alongside their plastic-swaps showcase.

Missed the sampling event?

Join us at the Wao Summit this month for two ‘microplastic-esque’ learning opportunities:

26th October: Join Marine Scientist Veronica Rotman as she discusses her PhD ‘Ki uta ki tai – Mountains to Ocean: Microplastics in our Lakes’

28th October: Find us between the Yacht Club and Eely Point during the Wao Summit’s ‘Sustainable Communities Tour’ from 10am-3pm and have a go at using our gear to sample for microplastics.

We wish to thank our ‘A Teeny Tiny Truth’ funders for helping make this event and project possible: The Otago Participatory Science Platform, Curious Minds, Ten Square Games and Planet Play. To learn more about A Teeny Tiny Truth, click here.

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