Environmental science and marine biology PhD graduate Stephanie Borrelle is taking on one of the world’s big problems. After graduating this month, she is off to the US and Canada to help develop policy around combatting plastic pollution in the oceans.
She will spend two years at the University of Georgia and the conservation NGO Ocean Conservancy, as one of five recipients in the world of a fully funded David H Smith Conservation Research fellowship.
Stephanie’s concern with plastic’s impact on marine life, came out of research she did for her honours degree, studying the recovery of endangered bird populations on the Hauraki Gulf islands where predators such as rats and stoats had been eradicated.
Working among species such as the shearwaters, petrels and albatross, she discovered a love for seabirds but she also found that removing predators was not enough to save them.
“Although predators may have been removed on from their land habitat, on the open ocean they face problems caused by climate change and plastic pollution, so their populations are still declining and many face extinction.
“Aotearoa boasts the greatest diversity of seabirds in the world and they have an enigmatic and incredibly interesting life history. Some of them spend ten years living at sea and roaming the world’s oceans before finding their way back to the island from which they fledged.”
Stephanie made the problem the subject of her PhD and wanting to raise awareness of the problem, she submitted an opinion piece on the need for an international agreement on plastic pollution to PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), one of the top three science journals in the world. She has also done numerous media stories in New Zealand and abroad on the cruel and devastating impact plastic is having on marine animals.
With her next endeavour she hopes to help bring about the global regulatory changes needed to bring the oceans back from the brink of disaster.
More articles about Stephanie’s work