Big Topic

On Canada’s East Coast, researchers look for plastic — and a new way to do science

Emerging research on microplastics suggests they can leak harmful chemicals into the environment. On the East Coast, one researcher is working to understand the impact of these tiny particles — and reckoning with science's colonial legacy at the same time.

Each summer, Max Liboiron wanders the wind-whipped wooden staves around St. John’s, N.L., asking fish harvesters for fish guts.

Despite competition from angry gulls, they’re easy to come by, says the geography professor at Memorial University and ocean plastic researcher, who spends the winter dissecting the innards under a microscope looking for tiny plastic particles. The fish harvesters constantly see plastic floating around the North Atlantic. They want to know if their catch is safe to eat — and have asked Liboiron to find out. As a scientist who looks to the communities they work with to guide their research, Liboiron commits to answering the question.

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