HDR Confirmation Seminar: Caitlin Smith - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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HDR Confirmation Seminar: Caitlin Smith

We would like to invite you to attend the HDR Confirmation Seminar of Caitlin Smith, a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in the School of Science, Technology and Engineering. If you are external to USC and wish to participate via Zoom, please contact ASURE@usc.edu.au.

Thesis Title:

Assessing the toxicity of marine debris ingestion in marine turtles.


Marine turtles are highly susceptible to environmental change and anthropogenic pressures, making them an ideal indicator of environmental health.

The increasing presence of anthropogenic marine debris in the marine environment provides an unprecedented threat to turtle species, particularly in hatchlings and juveniles. Debris particles are colonised by microorganisms, including bacteria, creating a biofilm.

Persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals have the ability to bind to this biofilm increasing its risk of deleterious effects once ingested.

It has also been demonstrated that harmful plasticisers, i.e. phthalates, leach from within plastic particles once introduced to biological systems as they start to break down.

The toxicological exposure from microplastic ingestion is already understood to disturb lipid and metabolite functions in the livers of zebrafish and effect the embryonic development of sea urchins.

Although there have been several studies globally that have quantified the amount of marine debris ingested by marine turtle species, none of these have examined the potential and realised toxicological health implications following ingestion.

Over the course of my PhD I aim to quantify the toxicity of ingested marine debris and explore the correlation between the rate of ingestion and the contaminant load found within marine turtles.

I aim to do this by gaining organ and blood samples through necropsy and live sampling on an environmental gradient, and quantifying health parameters, heavy metal and chemical load as well as plastic concentration accumulated in tissues.

By understanding how marine debris acts as a vector for contaminant exposure and its implications on marine turtle health, we can better inform management strategies concerning not only waste disposal but agricultural and industrial pollution as well.