Project will study pollution impacts on Ecuadorian food webs and communities

November 10, 2021: VICTORIA, BC – The Ocean Pollution Research Unit (OPRU) at The University of British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries has partnered with Ocean Diagnostics to deploy the company’s first AI-based imaging system and data portal to quantify and analyze microplastics (plastic particles under 5mm) in Galapagos penguins. Led by Dr. Juan Jose Alava, it is the first field project to use this revolutionary technology.

“Until now, scientists relied on archaic and time-consuming tools like rulers, calipers and stereo microscopes for measuring microplastic morphology to study the sources, transportation, accumulation and fate of microplastics,” says Ethan Edson, ODI co-founder and CTO. “This subjective and tedious process was a bottleneck to collecting additional data and was prone to human error. Our software uses customized computer vision algorithms and machine learning to accurately measure microplastic particles and cut hours of analytical research time into only minutes.”

Saturna is a portable tool that performs a highly standardized image analysis routine to automatically quantify and physically characterize visible microplastic particles. The sample metadata and particle image are then uploaded to the company’s collaborative online data portal, Mariana, where the image is rapidly analyzed and can be compared to other standardized global data.

“With the ability to collect and analyze more data, we can learn how microplastics move through Ecuadorian food webs and affect surrounding coastal communities,” explains Karly McMullen, OPRU master’s student. She adds, “Mariana is especially exciting because I will be able to add my findings to a global database for any researcher in the world to access. The combination of a consistent, replicable mechanism to quantify and characterize microplastics and an online database will help researchers better understand microplastic movement through global ecosystems.”


About Ocean Diagnostics

Founded in 2018, Ocean Diagnostics Inc. is a Victoria-based environmental impact company that works with government, academia, environmental firms, non-profits and global citizens to diagnose the threat of and address microplastic pollution and biodiversity loss. Through innovative technologies, cutting-edge laboratory capabilities and collaborative partnerships we generate the scientific data needed to influence informed decision making.