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MICROPLASTICS HOTSPOTS: A NEW WAY OF RAISING ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS

Nowadays, marine litter is a global problem that affects coastal areas all around the world. Nearly 80-90 % of marine litter is composed by plastics that, once at the ocean, are broken into smaller particles mainly by photo-oxidation, thermal oxidation and mechanical degradation, among others, being those particles with a size in their largest dimension between 1 μm and 5 mm named as microplastics, though it should also be indicated that microplastics can also be directly released into the environment with that size.

Plastic debris arrives at beaches in different periods and ways, but there are some beaches that are highly exposed to the massive arrival of microplastics during the whole year. In general, those beaches facing the sea current and with prevailing winds are generally the most exposed ones. Beaches with these conditions could be hotspots of marine debris and, specifically, microplastics, being pellets, irregular fragments, and fibers, the most prominent forms contaminating the marine environment.

COVID-19 crisis has deeply affected society, which has entered into a period of uncertainty and the need to move to a new and sustainable paradigm. In this way, universities, as higher education institutions, play a decisive role adopting and implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and also serving as an example to the society.

In many universities, undergraduate students can validate several ECTS by developing different activities not related to the degree, such as sports or other accomplishments. In Spanish universities, students can also validate these ECTS by attending and passing different “university extension courses” (UECs) by carrying out several activities. These courses are also available to the general public who wish to learn about that specific topic.

This communication constitutes our personal experience integrating the 14th SDG (Life Below Water) in the curriculum of a UEC of the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands, Spain) focused on the general public. The course, which dealt with microplastic pollution, integrated among its activities a microplastics sampling at a local hotspot. Such activity, which was highly valued by the students, created an important environmental awareness due to the large amount of plastic debris (including microplastics) reaching the area, and serves as a clear example of the importance of showing on site real environmental problems to raise such awareness.