Assessing the risk of microscopic plastic accumulation in South Carolina's Winyah Bay

Coastal Carolina University
Conway, South Carolina
Computer ScienceEarth Science
DOI: 10.18258/6787
Funded on 4/28/16
Successfully Funded
  • $2,687
  • 111%
  • Funded
    on 4/28/16

About This Project

There is increasing evidence that microscopic plastics persist in the environment, accumulate hazardous chemicals, and adversely affect marine organisms that ingest them. This project will examine microscopic plastic transportation, fate and dynamics in Winyah Bay, South Carolina to provide valuable information to protected areas on potential ecosystem damage.

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What is the context of this research?

Microplastics are plastic fragments that are less than or equal to 5mm in size and are created from the physical degradation of macroplastic debris (i.e., plastic bottles, fishing line, plastic bags, etc.) or through manufacture for personal care, cosmetics, and air blast cleaning products. There is increasing evidence that microplastics adversely affect marine organisms, including seabirds, blue mussels, fish and crustaceans. Ingestion of microplastics and the chemicals they carry may lead to endocrine disruption which may affect mobility, reproduction, development, and carcinogenesis. The goal of this project is to shed light on the fate, transport, and dynamics of continental microplastic inputs into marine environments as this knowledge is currently very limited.

What is the significance of this project?

Microplastics have been recorded in many different types of ecosystems worldwide, including even remote and protected aquatic environments. Winyah Bay and the rivers that empty into it are relatively protected and provide unique coastal habitats for wildlife. However, this area is still prone to microplastic invasion. 47,060 square kilometers of partially populated land drains into it, boating traffic uses the major Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway as a connector through the bay, and it is frequented by many fishermen and tourists.

What are the goals of the project?

The outcome of this project will include microplastic data (i.e., abundance, plastic type, color, and size) in Winyah Bay, SC, a validated hydrodynamic model that can simulate the fate and transport of microplastics, and a statistical risk assessment tool for microplastics in the Winyah Bay area. This will provide valuable information to protected areas on potential damage to marine organisms and ecosystems, and also possible sources as to where these plastics originate. The project will begin April 2016 with a preliminary study and end summer of 2018. We will share updates on our findings, videos of our computer model's prediction on plastic travel, and advice on where to fish and where to avoid fishing.


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Your contribution will be dedicated to funding our boat expenses. Coastal's pontoon research vessel is priced at $300/day and is needed for 9 days of sampling to meet this project's goal. This totals to $2,700 in boat expenses. Funds raised through this website will provide most of the funding for boat expenses ($2,400). The remainder of the boat expenses ($300) will hopefully be covered by other sources of funding. We are hopeful to be funded in April/May 2016 by Coastal's Graduate Student Incentive Grant and the M.K. Pentecost Ecology Fund. If funded, these two sources will be dedicated to field and lab equipment expenses. Also, it is planned that a portion of these two sources will fund the remainder of boat expenses ($300).

Endorsed by

While under my advisory, Samantha has shown strong motivation, intelligence and hard work through her classes and research activities. I have approved her research plan as it is scientifically sound and valid, meanwhile also realistic and feasible. There are few studies on this topic in South Carolina, therefore, Samantha's research will be meaningful and relevant for the protection of the natural resources of South Carolina's coast. I fully support Samantha's research and thank you in advance for your support towards this project.

Meet the Team

Samantha Ladewig
Samantha Ladewig
Master's Student


Coastal Carolina University
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Samantha Ladewig

In my overall college career of six years now I've spent a decent chunk of it in travel and seeing worlds outside of my own. From Belize to Portland, OR, Austin, TX to Conway, SC, Tahiti to Oahu, HI and many of my other traveled paths, I've developed a passion for learning about this world's various landscapes and cultures. Personally what hit me the most in all of this learning and traveling is seeing beautiful, pristine areas trashed with litter that will take hundreds of years to degrade. This realization that our trash shouldn't be in these areas is what lead me to study how litter is getting there. With my Bachelor's of Science background in Biology and Chemistry and more recent studies in Marine Science at CCU I plan to tackle the main question: Where is the litter coming from? The most harmful litter in my opinion are microplastics. I believe this because they directly affect microorganisms at the start of the food chain whom all are crucial to aquatic ecosystems. Microplastic impacts will mostly start at the bottom of the food chain but eventually through biomagnification will work their way back to the top.... getting back to us humans in our food!

I am well versed in proper laboratory usage and performance from my many lab courses in undergrad at Concordia University Texas and also my involvement with my research group's previous work on microplastics. My field sampling skills and knowledge have been enhanced as I have volunteered many hours towards helping other graduate students at CCU obtain their field data over the past two years. My lab measurements and field sampling experience on NOAA's Go-Ship 2015 P16N cruise really pushed me mentally and physically to provide high quality performance in a timely manner. As complications arose on the cruise, communication and team work helped the group to overcome and progress, which also helped me as an individual to develop a sense of direction for handling future issues.

Project Backers

  • 30Backers
  • 111%Funded
  • $2,687Total Donations
  • $89.57Average Donation
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