12-Year-Old Girl Invents Plastic-Detecting Robot to Save Our Oceans
These tiny plastic particles are barely visible to the naked eye, but they pollute aquatic ecosystems around the world, posing a serious threat to marine life.
"One day when I was at Boston Harbor, I noticed there was a lot of plastics on the sand, I tried picking some up, but there seemed to be so many more, and it just seemed impossible to clean it all up," the sixth grader from Andover, Massachusetts, told Boston 25 News.
So Du created an underwater ROV, or remotely operated vehicle, that uses infrared to detect microplastics in the ocean.
Courtesy of Anna Du
"I hope to be able to spatially map where microplastics are accumulating," she told Fast Company.
Du chose infrared not only because it keeps costs low, the technique also helps scientists distinguish microplastics from other, nonhazardous materials underwater without having to send samples to a lab.
The sixth grader is now gaining national attention for her invention, called the "Smart Infrared Based ROV to Identify and Remove Microplastics from Marine Environments." She was recently named a finalist in the 2018 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Du notes in her submission video for the annual challenge that 8 million metric tons of plastics are being dumped into the ocean every year. This plastic "constantly sinks to the ocean floor, making it virtually impossible to clean up," she says.
This marine debris never fully biodegrades. Instead, waves and sunlight break it up into smaller and smaller pieces.
"Some fish may eat the microplastics and those fish will be consumed up the food chain, throughout the global ecosystem and ultimately ending up on our plates, potentially causing a big health problem as toxins accumulate in our bodies," she continues.
Now that she's a finalist in the challenge, she'll get to work with 3M's scientists and engineers to help incubate her idea. Eventually she wants to create a machine that can also collect the plastic it finds, aiming to make "the most efficient machine cleaning up plastics," she told Fast Company.
When the young genius grows up, she wants to pursue a career that will help make a positive difference.
"I hope to be ... an engineer because I love the ocean and marine animals, and I want to do something to help," she says on her bio page. "In the future, with my engineering, I hope to be able to save people with all of my inventions."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.