UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Galápagos penguin as the "canary in the coal mine" for microplastics research in the Galápagos Marine Reserve & plastic pollution perceptions in Ecuadorian mangrove communities McMullen, Karly


Microplastic pollution now threatens some of the world's most iconic locations for biodiversity, including the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. This thesis highlights the pervasive and harmful nature of plastic pollution in our oceans, which has significant ecotoxicological implications for marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health. Using the Galápagos penguin as an indicator species, this study assessed the concentration of microplastics and other anthropogenic particles in surface seawater near Galápagos penguin colonies, penguin prey, zooplankton, and penguin scat, as well as microplastic bioaccumulation and biomagnification potentials in the Galápagos penguin using trophodynamic Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) ecosystem modeling with the Ecotracer contaminant tracing routine. The study also investigated Ecuadorian mangrove communities' perceptions of plastic pollution's impact on the environment, economy, and human health, providing localized context for effective strategies to tackle this pervasive problem. Empirical evidence collected in the Galápagos in October 2021 revealed an average of 0.54±0.49 particles/L in surface seawater (< 10 um). This study highlighted that the Galápagos penguin may consume 3,500 to 12,000 anthropogenic particles per day from fish, with 5 of 11 anchovies assessed having 0 to 3 particles per fish, and all 6 mullets and 1 milkfish assessed having 3 to 27 particles per fish (average 7.27). The research concluded that microplastics can bioaccumulate in all predator-prey combinations. Biomagnification, however, was not observed in a scenario where all taxa eliminated 99% of microplastics ingested per day, indicating that the elimination or egestion rate of microplastics is a key factor in determining their biomagnification behaviour. Surveys conducted in Puerto Hondo (2019 & 2021) and Isla Santay (2021) found that individuals who lived and worked within the mangroves were more concerned about plastic pollution than those who worked in the city, suggesting "out of sight, out of mind" phenomena. The older generation was also more concerned than the younger generation, and in contrast to literature, males appeared to be more concerned. Both communities linked their well-being to their connections with nature, thus further advocating for locally grounded solid waste management policies to reduce marine plastic and uplift and empower the well-being of coastal mangrove communities in Ecuador.

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