Media Coverage: RTE- 10 Things to Know About… Water

In August 2015, I was asked to be part of a programme on RTE 1 called 10 Things to Know About…Water. It was Episode 5 in a 6 part series showcasing Irish research. #LoveIrishResearch.

I had a great time filming with Kathriona Devereux on Ballyloughane beach and in the image analysis lab at GMIT.



On Ballyloughane Beach, Galway with Kathriona Devereux       Image:@10Things_ToKnow


The show can be watched in full here.

I moved to Galway three years ago to study microplastics and their distribution and implications on the marine environment, mainly because there hadn’t been any studies previous to the research that we were going to do’… ‘I went to sea on the Celtic Explorer for a few months and we found microplastics in almost every sample that we took at sea. In my research we looked at a group of fish called mesopelagic fish and we found microplastic in 11% of the fish that we studied. We took out their whole digestive tract and dissolved it, so we knew that whatever we found in our sample was going to have come from inside the animal’… ‘We did find microplastic in commercially sourced fish from previous studies we’ve done. In the English Channel, we found 36% of the fish we looked at to have microplastics in their stomachs’… ‘It’s a very new area of research, 10 years ago we didn’t know that microplastics existed in the marine environment’… ‘I think we need to work a lot more on legislation and more on recycling and reusing plastics in trying to get away from single-use plastics and plastics that aren’t necessarily required in our day-to-day lives’. 



Research: Marine Mammals and Plastics

Originally posted on 16/2/2015 on


… “When marine mammals strand, the present a unique opportunity to obtain insights into the ecology”….. (Lusher et al. 2015).

It’s not uncommon to see reports on the news and the web about the marine mammals stranding on coastlines around the world. In the most part, their deaths are associated to natural causes. However, in many cases their deaths are attributed to marine debris, specifically large plastic items that have been ingested, caused blockages, malnutrition, starvation and eventually death. Regardless of the route of entry to the marine environment, discarded plastic can be accidently ingested by animals mistaking it for prey.

A quick Google search lead me to these reports:

It is not only large plastic items that could be present in the digestive tracts of these animals. As part of my PhD research and collaborative work with Dr. Gema Hernandez-Milian from University College Cork (UCC) we have been investigating methods for the identification of microplastics in stranded animals on Irish shores.

We were fortunate enough (not fortunate for the animals), to have three True’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon mirus) strand on the west and north coast of Ireland within two weeks of each other. A mother and calf in Co. Donegal, and an adult female in Connemara, Co. Galway.

True's beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013

True’s beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013 (Image: Ian O’Connor)

It is important to note that strandings of True’s beaked whales in Ireland are very rare, with only 13 record to date, check out the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) for more details.

A laboratory procedure was developed, to prevent contamination and to search effectively for microplastics in our samples. In short, we looked at each stomach separately, and divided the intestines into 20 equal sections. Rinsing the samples through stacked sieves, we were able to remove remains of prey, for dietary analysis, and the retained material was digested to leave non-biological material.

Any items remaining following digestion were visually analysed under a microscope, and a sub-sample were retained for FTIR analysis to find out which polymer new were looking at. For more information on this technique, read the methodology section of Lusher et al. 2013.

We found microplastics throughout the digestive tract (stomach and intestines) one female whale. We also identified macro plastic items in both the adult whales. The calf had no sign of plastics or food, but did have milk, which suggests it was still feeding from the mother.

Diagram of the stomach of True’s beaked whale (Image: Lusher et al. 2015)

As we are not vets, the cause of death could not be determined. The levels of plastic found did not appear to have caused any significant negative effects on the individuals.

To read more about the study click here. Or you can contact me for a copy of the PDF:

We are carrying out this work on cetaceans stranded in Ireland, so keep an eye out for future research.

Dr. Simon Berrow from IWDG and GMIT was interviewed on TodayFM about a killer whale stranding in Co. Waterford a the beginning of the month. He discusses the work we have been doing form 11. 40 mins on-wards. Take a listen here.


Published by Amy Lusher


Originally posted on 20/6/2014 on


Exciting news!! We have just returned from a research cruise to the Arctic!!!

About a year ago, Amy applied for funding from EUROFLEETS2 to piggyback a research cruise in polar waters near Svalbard to look at microplastics distribution. She was successful and awarded funding for herself and another person to join the PREPARED cruise, co-ordinated by Renata Lucchi from OGS, Trieste, Italy.

So on the 4th of June we made our way to the R.V. G.O Sars, one of Norway’s Polar research vessels.

G.O. Sars (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

The aim of the PREPARED cruise was to survey the PREsent and PAst flow REgime on contourite Drifts wests of Spitsbergen. So this fitted nicely with our aims to look at microplastic distribution in relation to water currents.

The total scientist party consisted of 28 multi-national researchers and 3 technicians from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Netherlands, Brazil (Heidi!), Croatia and England (Amy!). This was a total of 12 institutions: OGS (National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics), CNR-ISMAR (National Research Centre –  Institute of Marine Sciences: Italy), Galway-Mayo Insinuate of Technology,  Alfred Wegener Institute, University of Gothenburg, The Arctic University of Norway, Institute of Marine Research Norway, Norwegian Polar Institute, University of Bergen, Pisa University, UNIS: the university centre in Svalbard, Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences.

Group photo: (L-R) Gianmarco, Ekaterina, Ragnheid, Sam, Ardo, Jan Sverre, Ilona, Amy, Paolo, Giulia, Stefano, Simone, Mauro, Heidi, Davide, Eli Anne, Katrine, Magdalena, Valentina, Fedrica, Caterina, Dag, Karin, Leonardo, Lorenzo, Vedrana, Renata (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

During the cruise  “Team Plastic” consisted of Heidi, Amy and Valentina (from OGS, Italy). We collected samples from underway sampling, box cores and using a manta net. Sampling was conducted over 24 hour period and we worked shifts in rotation. Working at night did not really matter, after all, this far north it was 24 hour sunlight. As we got closer to the coast we were treated to some stunning views of midnight sun over Svalbard. There was a bit of spare time for some posing in the sun!

Throughout the cruise sediment samples were collected, and CTDs taken as well as a including a 20+ metre Calipso core, you can read more here at Giulia’s blog. She was taking part as a Teacher at Sea and has documented the cruise in lots of detail. Definitely have a look if you get the chance.

“Ice Manta” taking it’s first dip in polar waters (Photo: Giulia Realdon)

Heidi cleaning up after our most disgusting plankton tow nicknamed “whale vomit” (Photo: Amy Lusher)


Data entry time!! (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

As well as our sampling, we were lucky enough to see several species of marine mammals: dolphins, whales, and plenty of bird species: Fin whales, minke whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, unidentified dolphin (high dorsal fin, black curved back…possible orca….just sayin’…..), guillemots, Arctic fulmars, puffins, arctic terns, arctic skua, glaucous gull and little auks.  We have to say special thanks for the stunning photos some of other researchers took. Here are just a few of the species we saw.

Arctic Fulmar (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)


Puffins (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)

Humpback whale (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)


Guillemot(Photo: Ardo Robijn)


Sperm whale (Photo: Renata Lucchi)


Guess the dolphin….(Photo: Renata Lucchi)

As a treat, our Chief Scientists decided to take the vessel into Hornsund. It was a beautiful evening and we had a lovely time sitting on the deck of the vessel watching whales and dolphins, there were even rumors of a polar bear climbing seen in the distance 🙂

Evening visit to Hornsund Fjord (Photo: Giulia Realdon)

We really enjoyed our time in the Arctic, we met some brilliant researchers and it was a great experience. Hopefully we can go back and repeat the sampling in the future. Time to get on with analysing our samples!!!

Media Coverage: NearFm podcast January 2014

originally posted on 30/1/2014 on

Before Christmas, we were asked to contribute to a 2-part radio podcast by Lenny Antonelli.  Ireland’s Oceans follows marine scientists to learn about the science surrounding Ireland’s coastline.

In part One, Dr. Simon Berrow, Dr. Joanne O’Brien, Marta Bolgan (PhD Researcher), and Amy Lusher talk about the research we are carrying out at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

This is what is written on the nearfm’s website:

“Ireland has over 1400 km of coastline and 220 million acres of seabed, some of it as deep as 5km. Our seas have weathered our coastlines and shaped our climate. In the distant past the freezing of these oceans created the icecaps that sculpted our land. And when the ice melted, rising seas turned our fragment of north Atlantic rock into an island. Our oceans brought the first settlers to Ireland but later carried millions away.

Despite living on this small island out on the Atlantic we don’t really think of ourselves as an oceanic country and most of us have little connection with the sea. But today Ireland is leading the way in the study of the sea, and our scientists are starting to understand how our oceans work in ever more complex and exciting ways.”

 Published by Amy Lusher

Media Coverage: Irish Times 2013

Originally posted on 16/12/2013 on


I was asked to write short piece about my research in relation to Christmas. It was to be part of the Irish Independent’s Christmas supplement, called ‘Science of Christmas’ in partnership with the Irish Research Council. So I put together a little story about how Santa was trying to minimise the impact of Christmas on planet Earth. The piece was published on 11/12/13, complete with a cheesy Christmas picture. You can find the full text below.

– Does Santa care about planet Earth?

His annual trip around the world gives Santa a great view of any changes on planet earth. Over the years, one of the things he notices is the growing amount of plastic in the sea.

Plastics have only been around since the early 1990s with the introduction of Bakelite in 1970 while mass production began in the 1040s. Now, the use of plastic for packing and in industry is widespread.

Even though many plastic items are recycled, about 10% of what is produced will end up in the ocean where it can accumulate and persist for hundreds of years.

This accumulation in the marine environment I a worrying trend and one that is being studied by scientists internationally.

Plastics build up on shorelines, in seawater and on the sea bed. Along with the unsightly impact, they also affect the environment in a number of ways. Marine animals can become entangled in them. Sea birds, marine mammals and sea turtles can swallow plastics items, both accidentally and mistakenly targeting them for food items. Ingestion can lead to malnutrition- because it can cause a blockage and decrease the nutritional intake- starvation and sometimes death.

It is not only the large items of plastic that cause problems; over time, larger plastic break down into smaller and smaller pieces, making it easier for smaller organisms to mistake them for items of prey or accidentally eat them. These microplastics are less than 5mm in size- about the size of half a grain of rice- and fish, invertebrates, such as mussels and prawns, as well as sea bird have been found to ingest them. By the way, polyester and acrylic fibres can also separate from clothes during washing and eventually find their way into the sea, while certain cosmetic products contain microplastic scrubbers. These also contribute to the accumulation of microplastics.

The effect of ingestion of microplastics still needs to be fully understood, but it has been suggested that they can cause the same damage as larger items of debris.

I am currently involved in research at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), where I am investigating the effect of microplastics on the marine environment in the North Atlantic and Irish waters. I have spent a lot of time on the Marine Institute’s research vessel, the R.V. Celtic Explorer, to collect water and biological samples. On these trips, balloon yoga mats, washing up gloves and bottles are among the many plastic items you see bobbing around on the sea.

Wisely, Santa decided it was time to do his best to minimise the impact of Christmas on the marine environment. He told his elves to reduce the amount of plastic packaging used in his workshop, so that he leaves less unnecessary and potentially damaging packaging in home.

That, in turn, reduces the amount of rubbish to be disposed of at the end of the Christmas period. The less plastic packaging use, the less that can end up in the sea. Plastic is a convenient and widely use produced and it is impossible to eliminate it completely, however by reducing its use, Santa is doing his bit to help preserve the environment for future generations

Originally written for

 Published by Amy Lusher