Matt Simon: Remote Lakes and Microplastic


THE MICROPLASTIC MENACE is a maddening conundrum: The pollutant shows up everywhere, but science knows very little about it. Microplastic particles blow to the peaks of pristine mountain ranges. They swirl hundreds of feet deep in the sea. They clot ocean critters, from shellfish to regular fish.

Yet we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the animals exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. A system of small, isolated lakes in Canada, though, could help unravel those mysteries. The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, are testing grounds that allow researchers to isolate a pocket of water within a lake and add pollutants like hormones and flame retardants—and now potentially microplastics—and watch how the ecosystem responds. The microplastics program is in its very early stages, but it could turn into a one-of-a-kind platform for testing how this omnipresent pollutant might be stressing ecosystems.