FORT MYERS, Fl. — Brianna Davis graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University on Sunday and plans to continue her research in microplastics as she steps into this next chapter of her life.
Davis is one of many scientists who have studied how larger pieces of plastic break down into invisible strands of plastic all around us. These smaller pieces of plastic are called microplastics.
"I'm going to put the filter paper there," Davis explained as she starts to test local water samples. "I didn't know what a microplastic was and now I'm going to study that in my master's thesis."
Fox 4's Lauren Petrelli brought Davis two water samples from the Cape Coral area to the lab.
"Whoah, I've never seen something like this before," said Davis as she looked at the first sample from a retention pond.
Within seconds, Davis used a microscope to point out a small blue strand from the water sample.
"This is a microfiber," she said. "This is coming from laundry."
However, there are tiny gas bubbles making it harder to examine other microplastics. She said this could be caused by plants around the retention pond. The second sample is from a kitchen sink tap at a home on well water.
Within seconds again, Davis and Dr. Puspa Adhikar, the professor who oversees Davis' research, found something in the water sample.
"Because of the color, it looks more like plastic and not a natural fiber," said Dr. Puspa Adhikar.
There were various types and colors of microplastics in this particular sample.
"It's not surprising because plastic is everywhere, but we have to be concerned."
They explained scientists have found microplastics in the water we drink and even the seafood we eat. While at FGCU, Davis spent most of her time testing samples in Estero Bay.
"There was less than I thought. There were still about a hundred per sample."
Davis said each sample from Estero Bay can fill a testing beaker to the top. Dr. Adhikar explained how nature obviously didn't intend for plastic to end up in our environment or our bodies, but scientists still aren't sure what the long-term impacts will be on our environment or health.
This is one of the many reasons Davis plans to continue her research after graduation.
"I hope to just educate people about the things that are happening within our waterways."
Davis said she will be attending Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch next year where she hopes to study microplastics in the digestive tract of sea life.
And if you do use plastic, Dr. Adhikari said harder plastic doesn't leach as many microplastics into the environment. So the chances of plastic getting into the water are comparatively better by using hard plastic than if you're using thin plastic.