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UD gets NOAA grant to study microplastics in blue crabs

Dean Estella Atekwana speaks at grant announcement.

A federal grant will help two University of Delaware researchers look at the impact of microplastics on blue crabs.

The researchers will use the $327,000 grant to examine crab larvae exposure to microplastics in the Delaware Bay.

Microplastics are the size of sesame seeds. Microbeads, a type of microplastics, can easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in lakes and oceans.

Estella Atekwana is dean of the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. She says they hope to determine how microplastics enter the larvae.

“For us to understand the different exposure pathways where this plastics get into the seafood or marine life and within the food chain and how does this eventually get to humans," she said. "It’s really early on, I’m not so sure that we truly understand the different pathways.”

She said researchers will also examine what harm they might pose.

“It’s by intuition that if we eat fish or oysters or whatever seafood that does have this plastics in them, that humans could also possibly ingest the plastics," she said. "Now what would be the health effects of that plastic? We don’t fully know.”

The UD grant was one of four the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded to study microplastics. The money came from its Marine Debris program.

UD’s research will include water sampling, ocean modeling and laboratory experiments. It expands the researchers’ Delaware Bay work into the coastal ocean.

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