Fri, 2 December 2022

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Revolution Plastics Team

Professor Steve Fletcher - Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy, and Director of the Sustainability and the Environment Research Theme

I am Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy, and Director of the Sustainability and the Environment research theme, at the University. 

As an advocate for global ocean conservation and a sustainable future, I’m committed to furthering research and activities – inside and outside the University – that generate positive impact for people and the planet.

As Theme Director for Sustainability and Environment research, my aim is to build on existing successes in ocean research by encouraging interdisciplinary, cross-University working. I’m also keen to strengthen emerging potential areas of excellence, which include growing agendas around sustainable food and sustainable fashion. 

I also lead the University’s Revolution Plastics initiative – driving interdisciplinary research and innovation to solve challenges in areas as diverse as recycling, packaging and wastewater treatment.

I am one of the top 10 most-cited scientists in the field of Marine Policy (Google Scholar), with more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and research reports, and my expertise in ocean conservation has been developed during 20 years of research and practice. 

This has been recognised by my role as Ocean Lead of the International Resource Panel by UN Environment, and my former role as Chief Strategy Officer for the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre. I continue to work extensively with the UN family of ocean and biodiversity conventions, governments, agencies, businesses, universities and a wider network of international conservation organisations.

After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Geography (University of Wales, Aberystwyth), I completed an MSc in Coastal Zone Management (Bournemouth University). 

After working as a Scientific Officer at the government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), I completed a PgCert in Teaching and Learning in HE, then a PhD in Coastal Management in the UK (both Nottingham Trent University).

I have also previously served as the University of Plymouyh’s Director of the Centre for Marine and Coastal Policy Research, and as Associate Head of the School of Marine Science and Engineering – and held positions on the editorial boards of the Coastal Management Journal and the Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 

Dr Cressida Bowyer - Senior Research Fellow

I'm a Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Science and Health and the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth.

I'm also Deputy Lead for the University's Revolution Plastics initiative, driving interdisciplinary research and innovation to tackle the global plastics crisis.

A biological scientist by training and having previously worked in the arts, the primary purpose of my research is to address global problems such as air quality, lung health and plastic pollution. I use transdisciplinary and participatory methodologies for action research and dissemination within the University's Sustainability and the Environment research theme.

I work on several international projects using creative methods, such as music, digital storytelling, puppetry and visual arts, to engage communities and find solutions to global issues in line with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I play a central role in developing international partnerships for Revolution Plastics, including our connections with community partners, governments and academia in the global south. This includes the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding with International University Vietnam, Strathmore University, Kenya and Shahjalal University, Bangladesh.

As a founding member of the AIR (Action for Interdisciplinary Research) Network, I pioneered novel creative approaches for working with community champions in Mukuru, Nairobi, Kenya. We continue to work with these community champions in the TUPUMUEAction Against Covid Transmission (ACT) and Sustainable Transitions to End Plastic Pollution (STEPP) projects, further developing the methodologies and delivering training workshops for community based champions.

Professor John McGeehan - Professor of Structural Biology

I am a Professor of Structural Biology and the Director for the newly-established Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth. With a strong background in the discovery and engineering of enzymes for the depolymerisation of lignocellulose plant biomass, we have turned our attention to the global challenge of man-made plastic polymers for bio-based recycling and upcycling applications.

My technical expertise is in protein biophysics with a focus on structural biology. I employ a range of hydrodynamic and spectroscopic methods in parallel with X-ray crystallography to reveal the detailed mechanisms of enzyme function. I am keen to embrace the development of synchrotron X-ray techniques and work closely with colleagues at the Diamond Light Source. My group works with a range of complementary techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and electron microscopy, and we are particularly excited about the new opportunities coming online with free electron lasers such as the European XFEL.

We are interested in understanding enzyme function at the atomic level, and through the CEI, we work with a host of superb international collaborators from academic laboratories, institutes and industry. Locally, I work closely with Dr Andy Pickford, Prof Anastasia Callaghan and Prof Simon Cragg, co-supervising multiple PhD studentships. I have strong research collaborations with Dr Gregg Beckham at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, Prof Ellen Neidle (University of Georgia), Prof Jen Dubois (Montana University) and Prof Henry Woodcock (University of South Florida).

Recent highlights from our team include the characterisation and engineering of an enzyme, PETase, that can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic found in single-use plastic bottles and clothing (Austin et al. 2018). The associated paper reached the Altmetric top 100 for 2018 and was widely covered in the media. 

Professor Pierre Failler - Professor of Economics

I am a Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Business and Law and Director of the Centre for Blue Governance.

I specialise in development economics, particularly environmental or ecological economics. I explore the interfaces between the use of natural resources and the development of countries. My particular area of expertise is the 'Blue Economy' — the sustainable use of oceans and coastlines for economic growth while preserving the health of ecosystems.

I investigate how developing countries can benefit from the use of natural resources in a sustainable way, and, importantly, how to place a monetary value on the protection of the natural environment. My research helps countries to develop sustainably. It informs the implementation of policies that favour environmental protection while providing economic and social benefits.

I coordinate complex research projects with multidisciplinary teams in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific region, working in collaboration with national research institutions, universities and policy makers.

I've coordinated 40 international research and development programmes in the following areas:

  • Marine and coastal biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Marine protected areas, including ecosystem valuation and payment for environmental services
  • Climate change
  • Ocean and coastal zone policy and governance
  • International and regional fish trade
  • Poverty and food security

I support many organisations to develop their strategies for the use of oceans and the coast. I coordinated Blue Economy Strategies for the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the Government of Bangladesh and the Government of Seychelles. I also coordinated the Regional Action Plan for the Blue Economy of the Indian Ocean Commission.

I've authored or co-authored over 350 journal articles, book chapters, research reports, consultancy reports, media reports, conference papers and proceedings. I'm a reviewer for many scientific journals. 

I'm a scientific evaluator for several research councils in the UK, Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.

Professor Alex Ford - Professor of Biology

I am a Professor of Biology with broad expertise in marine biology, ecotoxicology and parasitology. I'm particularly interested in the effects of contaminents on crustaceans and their parasites. I have a diverse background in aquatic toxicology including endocrine disrupters, plastics, nanoparticles and pharmaceuticals. I am an editor for several journals whereby my focus is invertebrate ecotoxicology and general marine biology. I am currently Director of Research Degrees programs within the School of Biological Sciences and school REF cordinator for UoA7.

Dr Fay Couceiro - Senior Research Fellow

I'm a Senior Research Fellow in Biogeochemistry in School of Civil Engineering and Surveying at the University of Portsmouth.

I'm an expert in pollution. The primary purpose of my research is to define the sources and fates of pollutants in the environment and develop interventions to prevent or mitigate their impact. I investigate many types of pollution including nutrients, metals, combustion products (from coal, wood, petrol and oil), plastic and organic pollutants.

I work in collaboration with industry partners to work out how to remove pollution from the environment using interventions and new technologies. I’ve worked with a number of companies in the water sector including THA Aquatic, WPL and Southern Water.

I'm interested in developing a circular economy and exploring ways to transform waste into a useful resource. For example, I worked with Gallagher Aggregates Ltd looking at air pollution control residue (the leftover ash when we incinerate waste for energy). This toxic residue is typically sent to landfill but the company now combine it with quarry waste to make a safe aggregate, which they plan to supply the building trade.

I’m also involved with research into the health impacts of pollution. I’m working with the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, investigating the presence of microplastics in the lungs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma patients.

I recently made a successful proposal to the University of Portsmouth to purchase a micro-raman – a specialist microscope that can reveal tiny pieces of plastic below 1 micrometre in size and determine their polymer type. This significant investment will enhance our research as we’ll be able to identify microplastics in the air and potentially those with the ability to enter the bloodstream. Only a handful of UK universities have this specialist equipment.

I peer review academic papers for a number of scientific journals including Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science and Environmental Science and Pollution Research. I'm also on the EU Reviewers Panel for Marie Curie research fellowships.

Serena Cunsolo - PhD, Civil Engineering

Since I was a child I have been passionate about the environment and its protection.

I was raised in Sicily, Italy and I am grateful that my parents instilled in me the importance of respecting nature and the world we live in. 

My curiosity to understand how biological processes work and explore disciplines such as genetics, microbiology and ecology led me to undertake my undergraduate studies in Biology at the University of Catania (Italy). Living by the sea triggered a profound interest in the underwater world, which led me to specialise and pursue a Master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Bologna (Italy).

During my postgraduate studies, I was awarded an Erasmus+ grant to study abroad and complete my Master’s thesis in Aquatic Microbiology at the University of Amsterdam. I investigated the impacts of global warming and high CO2 concentrations on a freshwater microbial species. 

Through my academic studies I have gained substantial knowledge of both fresh and saltwater ecosystems. I have volunteered for and worked on various conservation projects for the protection of aquatic species in the Mediterranean, such as the bottlenose dolphin and the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. These experiences and opportunities deepened my interest in environmental protection and, specifically, plastic pollution in aquatic ecosystems which I have been researching since 2015.

In 2015 joined The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a Dutch organisation whose goal is to develop advanced technologies to intercept and extract plastic litter from the oceans. At the beginning, I went on a research cruise to collect and quantify surface plastic particles of different sizes in the North Pacific Ocean, where the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch of 1.6 million Km2 represents the largest offshore plastic accumulation zone. It was deeply uncanny to see so many plastic items floating in such a remote area, but with no dense collection of garbage at the sea surface, as is often described by media.

This unsettling finding made me realise the dreadful impact that land-based sources of microplastic pollution have on our aquatic ecosystems, as oceans represent a final sink for microplastic particles. This, together with limited research data on land-based microplastics, triggered my interest in doing a PhD to  investigate one of the most relevant terrestrial pathways of microplastic emissions into the environment: wastewater treatment plants.

Microplastics that have been found in sewage include microbeads, present in personal care products and cosmetics, tyre particles which are generated from the abrasion of car tyres against the road when driving and, most importantly, microfibres that come off our clothes during washing. 

Owing to their small size, these microplastic particles make their way into wastewater systems because they bypass the filters present in water treatment, eventually ending up in rivers and oceans.  The major environmental concern related to microplastics is that these particles act as a vector for contaminants (e.g. persistent organic pollutants) found in the environment, that could be absorbed from the surface of microplastics. 

Another category of pollutants is chemicals already present on plastic because they have been added during the manufacturing process (e.g. flame retardants) that could leachate from the microplastic itself. In certain conditions, after the ingestion of microplastics by aquatic life, these chemicals could potentially be released into the organisms. The concentration of these toxins could then increase up the food chain as a result of the trophic transfer from one level to the next. More scientific evidence is needed to establish the extent of the ecological risk.

My research will contribute to a better understanding of how efficiently different types of wastewater systems remove microplastics. My work will inform water companies and hopefully promote innovative technologies to prevent microplastics from entering our oceans. Moreover, I hope that my research can influence environmental policy to encourage the implementation of mitigation measures, to drastically reduce the presence of these emerging contaminants in our water systems.

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