IMPLEMENTING FINAL DEGREE PROJECTS WITH AN ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE (MICROPLASTIC CONTAMINATION)

Final Degree Projects (FDPs), which can be a theoretical, empirical, or experimental work of professional application or innovation, are probably one of the most important subjects of any university degree. Students very frequently demand interesting, useful, attractive, and also challenging FDPs in which they can demonstrate (particularly to themselves) the competences acquired during their academic formation. Usually, the topic is agreed between the professor and the student, while in others, it is offered by the professor and selected by the student based on an objective prioritization procedure.

Very often, students come up with ideas or projects that they would like to develop as a personal challenge. During the last years, we have observed at the Science Degrees in Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, and Biology, as well as at the Master’s Degrees in Marine Biology or Terrestrial Biodiversity of the University of La Laguna (ULL), that an increasing number of students want to focus their FDPs on potential solutions for solving real problems or at least to develop a work that would have a certain impact or utility in the society. The most demanded topics are probably those in which an environmental problem that could represent a threat for animal or human health is tackled, for example, those dealing with microplastics pollution.

Microplastics have been considered during decades as important ocean pollutants. However, currently, contamination of microplastics have been reported to affect other terrestrial pools such as soils, biota and the atmosphere. Therefore, the need to investigate the “plastic cycle” like any other of the global biogeochemical cycles (e.g. water cycle) has awoken an important interest in the scientific community and general public. Quantification and identification of microplastics in the different environmental compartments (atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial pools) constitutes a first step to evaluate the degree of affection by this pollutant in a territory, which will establish the basis for future research on the effects on different ecosystem processes, as well as the degree and type of potential remediation actions to be carried out. As a result, this environmental problem can need a multidisciplinary approach (e.g. Chemistry, Biology, Soil Science).

The Canary Islands territory, in which the ULL is located, has an extraordinary potential for assessing the above mentioned “plastic cycle”. It has a great number of different ecosystems in altitude, a long coastal area, a high soil diversity and multiple land uses, in a relatively small surface. Such environmental wealth could be suitably taken as an advantage to offer the students the possibility of developing challenging, interesting, and useful FDPs in which they can feel to be giving back something to the society.

In this communication we would like to share our experience in the development of several FDPs with an environmental perspective, in particular, in the microplastics field, in several Undergraduate and Master’s degrees of the ULL. The results achieved indicate a high level of satisfaction of the students and a good acceptance by other members of the university community and the society.