samples microplastics when paddle surfing on the beaches of Barcelona

There are more seagulls to be seen today than in a Nemo nightmare. paddle surfers for a morning walk between wakes of swimmers and bathers with a face that feels less legs than Rambo. “But what is that? & rdquor ;. Maritime passers-by point to something moving through the sea chasing a paddle board. No, it doesn’t have a fin, but would put the scales on Spielberg’s shark. It is a net that captures the new predator of the seas. It has come to catch right here, in the bathing area of ​​the Sant Sebastia beach17,000 microplastics in just one hour. 45 per square meter. “One of the highest values ​​recorded in the world”confirm the researchers.

“Get wet because of microplastics”. It’s the war cry Surfing for Science. It fulfills the name to the letter: they surf for science. Anyone can become a researcher in less than Greta Thunberg it takes time to say “climate change”. This is “citizen science”. You put on your neoprene, they leave you a board paddle surfing and you throw yourself into the sea sample microplastics side by side with scientists. It is “real science&rdquor ;, insists Oriol. “These data are useful for a lot & rdquor ;.

Oriol Uviedo, 23 years old, manages the network with the ease of a sailor. He has been fishing for microplastics since 2019. He is coordinator of Surfing for Science. Five minutes rowing with him and you feel like recycling even Belén Esteban.

First study in bathing areas

“We arrived where the large oceanographic ships that carry out studies do not arrive & rdquor ;, details Oriol dragging the net behind his table. This is the first study that evaluates contamination by microplastics in the bathing areas. Microplastics: particles smaller than 5 millimeters. “We have much more contamination than we really think we have & rdquor ;, he says. there’s more out there invisible trash What memes from Toni Cantó’s new book.

The project was born as a Final Degree Project. A student designed a net to sample the areas inside the buoys with boards and boats without motors. paddle-trawl, they are calling her. They already have 12 distributed throughout Catalonia and have copied it in Norway. have sampled from Llançà to La Ametlla de Mar.

It is a project of the Consolidated Research Group of Marine Geosciences of the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Spanish delegation of Surfrider Foundation Europe. Many, many collaborate students and in Barcelona they have a WhatsApp group with 68 volunteers. “But more than 150 have calmly participated in the samplings & rdquor ;, points out Oriol. To join you must contact us via the web ( or Instagram (@surfingforsciencelab).

They usually go out to sample in groups of 3, 4 paddlesurfers. “In order not to abuse Anywhere Watersports Barcelona”. The Paseo de Joan de Borbó surf school also collaborates in the project. From here they go out to sample every 15 days. It is the only point that is always active. Thus they have accumulated a database laminated from San Sebastián beach, 3 years old.

Today the sea is crystal clear. No one would say that we will leave the walk by the sea with 453 microplastics above. “They are so small that you don’t think the water is contaminated Oriol says. And then: ‘Oh, I swallowed some water.’ Well, if you could imagine what you get to swallow…”. “Then there is microplastics in blood and people are surprised & rdquor ;, Naia nods on another board.

Naia Alberdi, 22 years. She joined the project two months ago. study sea ​​science at the UB, here he is doing business internships. He is the one who will analyze the samples in the laboratory. “Not everything is as beautiful as today & rdquor ;, smiles under the sun. The last time she entered the sea with a net “was a show& rdquor ;, he promises. Meter and a half waves. “That you don’t have to go in, but you say: ‘Since I’m here…”. She is Basque. “When she left, she knocked over our table, our network broke, our mobile flew & mldr; & rdquor ;. In winter there are not so many volunteers.

They encourage you to drag the net for a while. You will discover -already late- that it costs more than waxing and polishing wax. They usually sample one nautical mile per session. One hour of paddling. Today we stop when we reach One kilometer. Not because they see you with your tongue out, they promise you. This has been the journey. What have been found in the sea? “Condoms, compresses, potato bags, boxes of vegetables, umbrellas…& rdquor ;, Oriol enumerates. “When the Gloria had A boar out there swimming & rdquor ;.

The sample is taken to laboratory from the UB. There Naia counts the microplastics with millimetric patience -453-, he scans them, takes a photo to determine their shape, color, size, whether they are old or not, and calculates what there is per square meter: today hardly 1 comes out. They have come to find 45 on this same beach. The average in the Mediterranean is 0.25.

“Is a 5 mm plastic per square meter a lot or a little?” he asks the air Anna Sanchez-Vidal, researcher of the project and professor at the Faculty of Earth Sciences of the UB. “A whale -the answer is given- it filters 100,000 cubic meters per day. It would be 100,000 microplastics per day & rdquor ;.

The latest study of the project -published this March in the magazine ‘Environmental Research Letters‘- recorded maximum concentrations of 6 microplastics per square meter in Barcelona. In total, they collected 25,000 between October 2020 and June 2021. Three months later, they recorded 17,000 in a single session.

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“The conclusions they are very, very variable –confirms Anna-. There are many factors that play an important value.” Starting in July, they will expand the sampling area to the basque coast: They will extend their networks to 5 points in Catalonia and 5 in the Basque Country. “It will allow us compare two areas that are different – advances the researcher -. And we have no idea what we’re going to find.”

plastic soups

What has surprised you the most? “The great amount that there is & rdquor ;, answers Anna. “The concentrations of plastic that we find in Barcelona are similar or higher than those large accumulations of the subtropical gyres & rdquor ;, he assures. It refers to the “bad calls garbage islands”. Actually, “they are plastic soups -he points-. That is, water with many particles floating. But you from an airplane will not see them. And it is the same thing that we are finding in Barcelona”. His personal advice: “I would never bathe near the groynes”.