Geslaine Rafaela Lemos Gonçalves

Geslaine Rafaela Lemos Gonçalves

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Plastic pollution

AFFILIATION: Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, (UK)

My research currently focuses on micro to megaplastic pollution of mangroves and sandy beaches in Ghana, investigating plastic input sources, transport routes, accumulation, and hazards. My research interest is in marine ecology, community structure, reproduction, food habits, trophic web interactions, symbiotic relationships, and how these relate to anthropogenic pollution and environmental factors.

Impact
PLASTIC POLLUTION AROUND THE Mangrove region of NARKWA GHANA, AFRICA. PHOTO – GESLAINE R L GONÇALVES

The level of plastic pollution in Ghana is obvious – it can be seen everywhere and affects the livelihood of different communities. However, no study has looked at levels of plastic pollution from microplastics through to megaplastics in the country, especially in the mangroves of Ghana. We found record levels of microplastics in mangrove sediment. Our study shows that levels of plastics in the water/sediment in the mangrove and coastal regions are much higher near high population levels and near fishing areas. The plastics most commonly found are those from water sachets, plastic bags and bottles (single-use plastics). We also could see that the characteristics of the ecosystem are determinants for the type of plastics that accumulate. One notable finding is a distinct source of plastic microfiber: synthetic hair fibres are contributing ~50% of the microplastic fibres found in the environment. Mangrove crabs have tangled balls with higher amounts of plastic microfibres in their stomachs, and the effect of this polymer deposition inside the animal body is unknown.

During our research on plastic pollution in Ghana, we analysed how cultural beliefs and customs strongly influence the levels of plastic pollution in different areas. We identified the use of a cultural symbol known as the “Sankofa” (“return to the root”) that has a philosophical relation on environmental protection. We believe that this symbol could be combined with the dissemination of information around plastic pollution to bring attention in the local communities mitigate the plastic pollution. We are conducting exploratory research about hair culture in Ghana and the impacts that synthetic hair can have on the environment and health. We expect that knowledge about the negative impacts of synthetic Hair will influence changes in the practices and behaviour of plastic consumers.

pollution on a Sandy beach in Narkwa. PHOTO – GESLAINE R L GONÇALVES

As part of our research in collaboration with CEFAS, we will provide a database for the single-use plastics most used in Ghana and elaborate a guide to the plastic litter found on Ghanaian beaches, enabling us to influence policy decisions.

Our work has not yet influenced changes by decision-makers, but we hope that our results will highlight the need for better waste management practises. A large impact of improving these practises can be a reduction in the use of plastic water sachets, plastic bags and plastic bottles (single-use plastics).  We expect to continue our research work in Ghana, with interdisciplinary collaboration to together identify the topics where research is need to support inclusion and needs. Creating content and exchanging knowledge with the communities to work on the plastic pollution problem and convey the communities’ challenges, leadership, and solutions.

Making waves
Geslaine Gonçalves in the Mangrove region of Narkwa – Central region of Ghana

The first wave I made during the OOH was a blog post about The threat of plastic pollution in Ghana for the One Ocean Hub – read here >>

I have also made some waves in presenting our plastic pollution research in Ghana at different conferences and workshops throughout the project. The “Levels of microplastics in Ghanaian mangroves” was presented at SETAC Africa 11th Biennial Conference (2023) and MASTS Annual Science Meeting (2023) by our colleagues Albert Koomson and Bhavani E Narayanaswamy, respectively.  “Levels of plastic litter in the coastal regions of Ghana” was presented during the 5th Euro-Mediterranean Conference for Environmental Integration by myself.

Levels of plastic pollution found in Ghana’s coastal environments” was also presented at the Ambition and Impact: International Development Research in Scotland event (2024). We will also present our findings on plastic pollution in Ghana at MICRO2024, one of the most prestigious conferences on plastic pollution. – read more >>

During the Royal Society Legacy Plastics Workshop (11 September 2023), I represented our research on plastic pollution in Ghana, sharing our findings. In January 2024, in Ghana, we developed a week-long workshop and training for Cape Coast University students related to plastic pollution methodologies, analyses, and publications. During the same period, we had a workshop with the different representatives of the fishing communities from Cape Coast at Cape Coast University, where the plastic pollution problem was discussed with these community representatives. – read more >>

Recent publication

Our publications are in progress. We have one paper submitted for the Marine Pollution Bulletin journal and two that are in the submission phase.

Artwork: Margherita Brunori