This trip, experience, and field work contributed a lot to my PhD research project. They provided me with preliminary results in assessing the impact of plastics and microplastics on the aquatic ecosystems in the Russian territories, such as Central and Siberian Regions. 

Travel Report: Tamara Kazmiruk

Tamara Kazmiruk, a PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Russia. 

September 30, 2019
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I am a recipient of the Graduate International Research Travel Award for Summer 2019 at Simon Fraser University. With the support of GIRTA, I was able to travel to Russia, for a period of six weeks (from July 10 to August 22) in 2019 to conduct research on identifying the impact of plastics and microplastics on different types of aquatic ecosystems in Central (Volga River) and Siberian (Altai) Regions of Russia.

My PhD research project investigates (1) the abundance and distribution of microplastics and their behavioural mechanisms within different aquatic environments and (2) the sorption of trace elements (cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and mercury (Hg)) by the most commonly reported types of polymer materials and microplastics (low-density polyethylene (LDPE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyamides/nylons (PA), pellets, fragments and fibres) in intertidal sediments.

Pollution assessment programs have traditionally used sediments to determine the levels of different pollutants such as trace elements, as they accumulate at significantly higher concentrations in sediments than in water and show a higher temporal stability. Importantly, sediment-associated contaminants tend to accumulate in depositional areas on small fine-grained particles, which have a very high surface area and tendency for a higher concentration of organic matter. As a result, sediments can serve as a secondary source of pollution to the aquatic ecosystems and ultimately to higher trophic levels, including humans. In addition, “modern” sediments can contain a larger proportion of microplastics as compared to the overlying water column. Thus, microplastics are ubiquitous in the sediments of intertidal/coastal area and estuaries.

A major data gap that has been identified in assessing the impact of plastics and microplastics on the aquatic ecosystems around the world is the absence of data from the Russian territories. To support my research, I spent six weeks of summer 2019 in the Central and Siberian Regions, Russia.

During my trip I spent a great deal of time in the field in order to collect samples (water, sediments, plastic materials, and microplastics). The samples of plastic materials and microplastics I obtained from the field work are currently being processed in our lab in SFU.  We are currently measuring the trace elements (cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu)) and mercury (Hg)) in the plastic and microplastic samples.

My research from this travel will benefit from covering one of the data gaps in characterization of the types, amounts and behaviour (ability to sorb and leach trace elements) of plastics and microplastics. Anticipated results are:

(1) characterization of the types and amounts of plastics and microplastics that occur within sediments of the aquatic ecosystems in the Central (Volga River) and Siberian (Altai) Regions of Russia;

(2) estimation of the amounts of trace elements (cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu)) and mercury (Hg) in the plastics and microplastics samples taken from the sediments of aquatic ecosystems in the Central (Volga River) and Siberian (Altai) Regions of Russia.

This trip, experience, and field work contributed a lot to my PhD research project. They provided me with preliminary results in assessing the impact of plastics and microplastics on the aquatic ecosystems in the Russian territories, such as Central and Siberian Regions. This is a new and exciting field of study of the interaction of contaminants and microplastics within sediment environments, and I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work with the current leaders in this research area.

I am grateful to Simon Fraser University for the financial support that allowed me to undertake this research. Thanks to the Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA), I had a unique opportunity to conduct research at the Central and Siberian Regions of Russia.

I would like to express my appreciation to Debbie Sandher (Undergraduate/Scholarship Secretary), Mike Cheng (Financial Assistant), Marlene Nguyen (Graduate Program Assistant), and Eric Shen (Computer Technician) for their expert guidance, advice, and assistance. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Leah I. Bendell (my Senior Supervisor) for providing me with this opportunity and for supporting me throughout my PhD career. 

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