Social scientist leads major science grant

Sep 29th, 2015

Janet Harron

Social scientist leads major science grant

Sociologist Dr. Max Liboiron has capped off a stellar inaugural year at Memorial with a serious coup.

The Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) has awarded a major three-year grant to

Monitoring Marine Plastics in Canada’s North, a project that develops both accredited and citizen science methods for monitoring marine plastics in Canada's north. 

It is highly unusual for a social scientist to be the lead on a scientific project, let alone a $137,600 interdisciplinary grant. Dr. Liboiron has been conducting laboratory and field science on marine plastics since joining the sociology department a year ago. This research draws from science and technology studies that investigate how social, political and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture.

“It's going to be a great three years,” said Dr. Libroiron.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) identifies marine plastic pollution as a top environmental concern. Growing evidence indicates that plastics can move toxic chemicals into food webs through animal ingestion, impacting human health.

Despite these hazards, Canada lacks a long-term monitoring program for marine plastics. There is limited data about the quantity and composition of marine plastics in Canadian arctic and sub-arctic regions because of the low human population, limited research infrastructure, and because scientific monitoring protocols are not designed for icy waters and rocky shores. Without knowledge of quantities and providence of plastics, effective interventions are impossible.

Techniques used by Dr. Liboiron and team include: biological monitoring via birds and fish that ingest plastics; citizen science trawls where boaters and industry shipping can use surface trawls to quantify plastics; and shoreline sampling methods that account for rocky shores and ice, which currently are not studied because there are no protocols for conducting such studies. 

This project's partners include: 

Dr. Yolanda Wiersma (biology, Memorial)

Drs. Charles Mather, Dean Bavington and Josh Lepawsky (geography, Memorial)

Dr. Mario Blaser, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies (Memorial)

Jan Negrijn, Costal Connections

Dr. Jenna Jambeck, University of Georgia

Dr. Jennifer Provencher, Carleton University

Stephanie Avery-Gomm, Scope Ecological (NGO)

Dr. Mark Mallory, Acadia University

The Nunavut Research Institute, Nunavut Arctic College

Let's Talk Science

5 Gyres (marine plastics NGO)

Environment Canada