Microplastic Pollution's Mightiest New Hero

On Vancouver Island, a beach is always nearby for a local to enjoy the day out. With a bag full of towels and extra clothes, one expects the sun to glisten on their body, the slight breeze from the ocean to tickle their skin, the soft sand beneath their feet, and the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore. Due to the growing plastic pollution problem, this perfect beach day is no longer as picturesque as it once was, and young citizens have taken notice.

Liam Pope-Lau was an elementary school student who noticed the problem of plastic pollution when he signed up to participate in Surfrider Beach Clean Up at Willows Beach in October 2018. “I was doing the Beach Clean-up with the Surfrider Foundation and I could not believe how much plastic was collected in just a few hours. I was amazed that there was even more plastic that I could not even see, all the microplastics."

Discovering this problem gave Liam the inspiration to conduct his science project on the levels of microplastics pollution on other beaches in 2019, for which he won three science fair awards. Using a Ziplock bag and a metal spoon, Liam set out to collect samples from sand on beaches in British Columbia, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong and in Phuket, Thailand. After collecting the samples, Liam used a sediment-microplastic isolation (SMI) unit to filter the microplastics from the sand. His findings determined that Clover Point has higher levels of microplastics in beach sand compared to other Victoria beaches.

Liam continued to receive recognition for his research and attended the Bill M151 Committee meetings for a National Strategy to Combat Plastic Pollution in Ottawa and the Youth Engagement Forum for Zero Waste Victoria. Liam also had the privilege to meet with the Honourable Dr. Andrew Weaver and Minister George Heyman with Kids for a Plastic Free Canada about regulating single-use plastics in British Columbia.

After noticing a post about an upcoming microplastics citizen science project from Ocean Diagnostics, Liam reached out to the team to become our first citizen science volunteer. Ocean Diagnostics is proud to have Liam as our first Youth Ambassador and to tag along on his journey to help contribute to microplastics research. In partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ocean Diagnostics is piloting a microplastics citizen science project on various Vancouver Island beaches from April to September 2021.

Sign up for our newsletter to follow along Liam’s journey with Ocean Diagnostics and receive updates on our citizen science project.