Nfld. & Labrador

'These ones are called baby legs, because they are made with baby tights' says DIY surface trawl maker

Anyone can collect data on plastic contamination with a cheap, DIY surface trawl, says a MUN researcher.

MUN research encouraging citizen scientists to collect data on plastic in oceans, ponds and rivers

Max Liboiron is a scientist with the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR). It's a feminist marine science and technology lab that aims to conduct science and build technology that emphasizes the values of equity and justice. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Anyone can collect data on plastic contamination in the ocean or a pond with cheap, DIY surface trawls, says a Memorial University research scientist.

"If you want to find out about plastics in your water, particularly because fishes and animals that we eat, eat plastics, you can trawl in your area because these are easy-to-build trawls," said Max Liboiron, Director of MUN's Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR).

"One of the things we found is that I don't want to do my food fishery fishing around Bell Harbour, Bell Island, because it's full of plastic, but Petty Harbour has really clean water, as far as plastics go, so I'll do my food fishing there,"Liboiron said Wednesday. 

Do-it-yourself trawls like these one made with baby tights are helping researchers collect data on how much plastic is in the ocean without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Liboiron said the group's ultimate goal is to keep plastic out of the ocean and waterways, such as lakes and rivers.

"We can start identifying the sources, the amounts and address those upstream because once they are in the ocean, they are in the ocean. You can't clean them up, there are too many and they are too small." said Liboiron.

Science for everyone

She and members of her lab believe the best way to get the greatest number of people involved is to develop cheap, accessible tools, like BabyLegs, that cost less than $15 to build.

MUN researcher Max Liboiron holding a Manta Trawler. The trawler floats on the surface and collects plastic particles as it's dragged through water. (Simon Nakonechney/CBC)

Right now, the industry standard for plastic trawling is a piece of equipment called the Manta Trawler. It's made in California and costs about $3500 US. 

The DIY trawls CLEAR makes have been designed for conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador, but Liboiron said they're also being used in other parts of the world, such as California, New York City and Iceland.

"The point is that the most people imaginable can use these trawls," she said.