On SUNY Oneonta Week: Microplastics are a modern environmental threat.
Kiyoko Yokota, associate professor of biology, takes a closer look.
Kiyoko Yokota is an Associate Professor of Biology at State University of New York College at Oneonta (SUNY Oneonta) and conducts research at SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station (BFS) in Cooperstown, NY, on the shore of Otsego Lake. In collaboration with the BFS Volunteer Dive Team and Otsego Lake Association, she operates the NSF-funded Otsego Lake data buoy that collects high-frequency water quality data and contributes to regional and global lake science research projects through the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. She teaches undergraduate and master’s courses in general biology, ecology, limnology, and lake management, including a short-term study abroad program to Ogasawara Islands, Japan. Yokota earned a BA in biology with ecology emphasis from Saint Cloud State University and a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution and behavior from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a certified lake manager (CLM) of North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) and currently serves as the NALMS President-Elect. Yokota’s research interests include lake and phytoplankton ecology, aquatic microplastic pollution, and harmful cyanobacterial blooms, and she enjoys working with various local and regional lake and conservation-related organizations.
Why You Should Still Care About Microplastics
Have you ever wondered how microplastics impact your daily life? As a biology professor who studies microplastics, I am amazed at how ubiquitous microplastics are in the environment and how they could even be in your drinking water.
Do you remember the microbeads in face and body washes? These tiny particles are known as microplastics. Thanks to awareness campaigns, they were phased out in the US; however there are still many other sources of microplastics.
So, what is the impact of microplastics on aquatic ecosystems? I conducted experiments where we added these microplastics to lake water samples containing phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is a collection of microscopic algae and cyanobacteria. One type of microplastic altered the species composition of the phytoplankton when incubated at the lake surface. There was a reduction in a type of microscopic algae, which is considered good food for microscopic animals. These tiny animals serve as food for fish and other larger animals. The larger animals may be affected by the direct ingestion of aquatic microplastics and by reduced food quantity and quality. The minor changes at the bottom of the food web may alter the overall ecosystem.
We are learning more and more about the effects of microplastics in freshwater systems. Rivers flowing through human population centers and into the oceans have been identified as significant sources of microplastics. We were successful in phasing out microplastics in personal care products, but there are many other sources that we need to address.
So, the next time when you are at the grocery store, consider choosing items with minimal packaging that can be reused or recycled with certainty to lessen your impact on our aquatic ecosystems.