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Studying microplastics, its microbiome & environment in the Gambia river during Mission Microbiomes

Jean-François Ghiglione

In episode 38 of the podcast, Jean-François Ghiglione, marine ecotoxicology researcher from Banyuls-sur-Mer in France, discusses the importance of studying the Gambia River and how it helps to understand the ocean microbiome and ecosystems. Jeff was on board Tara as chief scientist during one of the legs of the Mission Microbiomes expedition whilst studying the Gambia river.

There, the focus of the topic study was on plastic pollution in the river and its effects on microorganisms. This will help us understand how different plastic pollution in African rivers is in comparison to European ones. The leg was made to find out the amount of plastic pollution in different environments along the Gambia River. The team also sampled the water to compare microbial life on plastic to the microbiome living in the surrounding water. They are interested in understanding the interaction between the microorganisms and the pathogens that could be transported through microplastics from the river to the sea. While the analysis and work downstream will take place over the coming months, the team already observed that the type of plastic pollution there was different from that found in Europe.

Tara navigating the waters of African rivers © Maxime Horlaville - Fondation Tara Ocean

This scientific study was dedicated to a woman involved with the sailing world and ocean protection, and Jeff talks about Isabelle Autissier, the first woman to have completed a solo circumnavigation of the globe. She is a French navigator, writer, and an environmental activist dedicated to environmental causes. She has also carried out research on Crustacean and fishes in fisheries on behalf of IFREMER in France. She is inspirational and is committed to bringing about change for the environment.

Jeff shares that his best memory of his time onboard is the human experience. The Tara crew takes care of everyone, making the atmosphere onboard comfortable and welcoming. Artists are also present onboard, which opens up new ideas and ways of seeing their work. Jeff praised the professionalism of the crew and the organisers, who created what he described as almost magical conditions.

Overall, the expedition was a great success and the team discovered new information on plastic pollution and its effects on microorganisms. It adds another piece to the puzzle of understanding how human activity impacts the oceans and the environment.

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