Every year, 99 percent of plastic entering the ocean go missing. But, where do they go? Finding out the answer is part of the work of Shiye Zhao, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI). Zhao researches the fate of marine debris, like plastic and other trash, in the ocean and how it interacts with the environment.
“HBOI is a nice environment for studying the oceanic plastic waste, a typical transdisciplinary topic,” said Zhao, who works in the laboratory of Tracy Mincer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology and biogeochemistry at FAU’s Harbor Branch and Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College.
Zhao first gained an interest in research as a teaching assistant at East China Normal University, he said. While there, Zhao ran experiments to test the responses of microscopic aquatic animals to toxic and non-toxic cyanobacteria, and also maintained organisms in the laboratory.
Before coming to FAU, Zhao worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the biology department of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, a non-profit research and higher education facility in Massachusetts. He worked on a project to assess the risk of marine plastics to sea scallop fisheries of the Mid Atlantic Bight and Georges Bank of the U.S. East Coast.
In this latest research, Zhao examined the interactions between microbial biomass and plastics in the ocean and how that potentially impacts biodiversity, ecological functions and biogeochemical cycles “ This study, published in the journal International Society for Microbial Ecology, was the first estimate of the global biological carbon mass carried by plastic marine debris,” Zhao said.
As an FAU postdoc, Zhao plans to keep researching plastic marine debris, how these plastics go missing in the ocean and their role in the ocean ecosystem.