My name is Geslaine Gonçalves and I am currently an early-career researcher with the One Ocean Hub at the 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.

1. What’s your greatest achievement since you started working for One Ocean Hub?

I am proud of the contributions made by our research group, the most important of which has been presenting the levels of plastic pollution in Ghana’s coastal environments, sandy beaches and mangroves. Our study identifies the most abundant types and sources of plastics in Ghana. We found that plastic litter, such as plastic bags and water containers, mostly originate from land sources. We also found a new source of microfibers in the Ghanaian environment that has not been described before – microfibres from synthetic hair.

Ges collecting samples in Narkwa mangrove.

Another accomplishment for me was the workshops we organised at the University of Cape Coast for the students and the local fishing communities. We were able to share findings, knowledge and experience, as well as learn about the community’s culture and beliefs through these workshops. Being a Hub researcher has also enabled me to expand my network, improve my communication skills, and collaborate and establish friendships with researchers from Ghana.

Students workshop/training at the university of Cape coast, Ghana
2. How does your work contribute to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours? 

The work we have been developing in Ghana provides unique insights into plastic pollution patterns and their impacts in tropical and developing regions, which is crucial to understanding the levels and sources of plastic pollution. Plastic is everywhere and is used for different purposes, some for longer or shorter periods of use (e.g. single-use plastics have a typical lifetime of ~20 minutes). Plastic is an important component of daily life. However, their durability and strength allows plastic to remain in the environment for centuries, affecting the environment and generating a cascade that affects every ecosystem and every living organism.

Our work contributes to One Ocean Hub’s vision for decision-making for a healthy ocean, helping to identify universal challenges and region-specific issues in plastic pollution management. In this way, plastic pollution research contributes to different disciplines in the Hub, such as marine biology, environmental science, socio-economics, law, and public health. This aligns with the One Ocean Hub’s goal of fostering interdisciplinary research by combining natural and social sciences, and promoting understanding and developing mitigating approaches for plastic pollution that consider both environmental and human dimensions.

Tangled microfibres from mangrove crab stomach.

Plastic pollution research includes experts from different disciplines that need to work together to mitigate its negative effects on climate change, public health, and the population’s rights to have basic sanitation, safe drinking water, income, and a healthy environment.

The plastic pollution research done in Ghana by researchers from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of Cape Coast, presented the levels and sources of plastic pollution at different matrices along the coastline. This sets the basis for continuing plastic pollution research in Ghana by the different Hub interdisciplinary research groups. Such development is an example of collaborative work between researchers from different disciplines to try to mitigate plastic pollution in Ghana through community engagement and capacity building. Our research and engagement activities are empowering communities with knowledge and tools to address pollution, finding creative ways to reuse and reduce plastic pollution, and turning plastic litter into an income source for the communities. Cultural/belief aspects of the Ghanaian communities are a strength that should be given important consideration in seeking to influence people’s behaviour to preserve and respect nature.

The One Ocean Hub network more broadly also benefits from our research findings which provide the evidence needed to inform and shape policies at local, national, and regional levels to advocate for effective plastic pollution regulations and policies. Our research findings can guide the Hub’s efforts to develop inclusive and adaptive governance frameworks.

By addressing plastic pollution, our research supports different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as SDG 14 which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, coastal areas and marine resources; SDG 6 that seeks to address the impact of plastic pollution on water quality, supports efforts to improve water management and sanitation practices; and SDG 11 that focuses on the development of sustainable coastal cities and communities.

Our research findings on plastic pollution in Ghana can further foster international collaboration by providing a platform for knowledge exchange and joint initiatives within the One Ocean Hub network.

3. What opportunity has the Hub provided you to lead on innovative research? How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills?

With the Hub, I have had the opportunity to conduct integrative research between natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to understand and address plastic pollution in Ghana. The connections that I have developed with researchers and stakeholders from different countries and disciplines have also led to new collaborations. The Hub also supported me with resources to undertake my research and co-organise workshops with the Ghanaian community to understand the plastic pollution issue.  

My leadership skills improved during the two years since I joined the Hub. Through collaborative work with Ghanaian colleagues to develop the research and collect the data, I increased my personal confidence in using innovative tools to study plastic pollution. The training and workshops for the students and the local communities at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana were led by Bhavani Narayanaswamy and me, with support from the Hub. My confidence and leadership increased over time in the Hub by connecting with the team, exchanging knowledge and experiences, and gaining mentorship experiences through my engagement with students from the University of Cape Coast.

4. What, in your view, have been the Hub’s most impactful activities?

I believe the most impactful activities are the community activities where the Hub presented the societal and cultural challenges faced by communities in different parts of Africa. These are the basis of Hub’s work across a broad range of themes such as human rights, environmental impacts, public health, and others. I also consider the Hub’s innovative research on the use of deep-sea organisms as a source of new medicines and the impact of plastic pollution on different ecosystems and people’s lives in Ghana as examples of most impactful activities.

5. What are the aspects of working in a collaborative environment such as the One Ocean Hub that you value the most?

Working in a collaborative environment meant researchers and stakeholders from various disciplines and regions were able to add different values. What I value the most is how collaborative work increases engagement with stakeholders in research. This generates job satisfaction which lets you deliver high quality work more frequently.

One aspect of this is that ideas, solutions, and novel approaches emerge when working with people from a variety of backgrounds, skills, and experiences, promoting problem-solving more effectively. This also facilitates relationships between different work streams. Working in a collaborative environment increases productivity and creativity, which encourages better communication, adaptability, and relationship building. All these will lead to a better work environment and decision-making.

ges meeting with Sirrka Tshiningayamwe at the closing conference, Cape town 2024
6. What are the challenges and new demands that early-career researchers face today?

Early-career researchers (ECRs) face different challenges in the 2020s, such as job insecurity due to a lack of long-term research funding. This challenge also demands that ECRs work across multiple research projects and proposals and perform a number of different tasks in a rapid time window. Working time, deliverables, and work-life balance – these are some of the most difficult factors to control and are impacting personal life and well-being. There is also an expectation to engage with social media, the public and policymakers to communicate the relevance and impact of our work. In addition, ECRs are also facing other persistent demands, such as the need to constantly learn new technologies and software that emerge rapidly; publication pressure to establish our reputation and advance in our careers; lack of consideration or respect from some senior researchers; delay in career progress; and constant search for establishing collaborations and professional networks.

7. What is your advice to fellow early-career researchers working on a global development project? 

To be communicative and not feel bad about asking for advice and help. Talk with as many people as you can about your work because their experience and knowledge can help you find better ways to develop and achieve your objectives. Enjoy opportunities to learn new technologies and methodologies that can help with your work and use these opportunities to improve your adaptability and leadership. Manage your work time and personal life to have a healthy life and be happy in both. Be aware of career advancement opportunities.

Related SDGs:

  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Life below water