Aquatic plant microplastic research set to improve Rockhampton waterways

04 November 2021

CQUniversity Bachelor of Science (Honours) student Natalie Wolfe-Rackemann is on a mission to improve and keep Central Queensland's waterways healthy after seeing firsthand negative effects on freshwater systems.

Ms Wolfe-Rackemann said she was inspired to create a positive impact on the environment through innovative microplastics research.

The final year Honours student is currently researching methods that can be used to identify microplastics on freshwater aquatic plants which she hopes to develop into a standard methodology.

"I developed an interest in microplastics after seeing what was going on in the environment and hearing about the effects of plastics in marine water'" Ms Wolfe-Rackemann explained.

"At present' there is no standard methodology for identifying microplastics on aquatic plants - some research has been done but much of this uses brand new plastics and plants grown in laboratories known to be clean of microplastics."

To assist her research' the Rockhampton resident was recently awarded the Fitzroy Partnership HeART of the Basin Scholarship. The $2'000 scholarship was established to progress learnings in a research topic relating to improving waterway health and/or understanding and use of waterways in the Fitzroy Basin.

"The HeART of the Basin Scholarship has helped me with research expenses associated with fieldwork. This involves the sampling of two freshwater aquatic plants in Moore's Creek of the Fitzroy Basin'" she said.

"These samples will assist in developing a standard methodology for the identification of microplastics on plants and to see if there is any difference between species or methods.

"I plan to use this methodology in further research when I go on to do my PhD. I plan to identify microplastics across multiple freshwater rivers in Queensland and throughout Australia."

While Ms Wolfe-Rackemann said her research journey has not always been an easy one' she thanked both Fitzroy Partnership for River Health and CQUniversity for their ongoing support.

"Five years ago' I was permanently injured in a workplace incident. While my ability to work full-time is still limited' I am thankful that CQUniversity gave me the support' alongside my supervisors Dr Amie Anastasi and Dr Andrew Irving' to design my own project and work around my pain management."

Applications for the 2022 HeART of the Basin Scholarship are now open. Fitzroy Partnership for River Health recently announced increased support for the Scholarship with $3'000 available for research expenses in 2022' with the scope widened to include a greater range of research outcomes advancing waterway health and/or the understanding and use of waterways.

To find out more or to apply visit Applications close on 25 March 2022.