Microcosms of marine plastic debris

Hello Foldscope Community, I am Mandy Barker a photographer from the UK who has been photographing marine plastic debris recovered from the world’s oceans for many years. The motivation for my work is to raise awareness about the vast amount of plastic entering our oceans, affecting ecosystems, biodiversity, marine life and ultimately ourselves.

Using the Foldscope I plan to look at microplastic particles taken from larger plastic objects that have been recovered from oceans around the world. I will also look at the current scientific concerns regarding microplastics entering the oceans in terms of microbeads and synthetic microfibres.

It is estimated that over 8 million tons of plastic enters the marine environment every year with 769 different species being affected. By 2050 scientists predict that 99% of seabirds will have been affected by plastic through ingestion and entanglement. Ingesting plastic can affect the endocrine system, reproductive system and function of creatures by absorbing toxic pollutants such a fertilizers, pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDT. Marine plastic acts as a sponge to absorb these industrial chemicals which are already present in the sea, they are then re-absorbed into the creature that has ingested it.

My first journey using the Foldscope is to recover and share with you all, plastic particles recovered from the North Atlantic Ocean.


Driving through the breathtaking volcanic landscape I am looking for a place to stop where the road meets the sea.


Pulling over I see a large object on the horizon and colours on the black larva, characteristic of yet another plastic strewn shoreline.


As I make my way towards the shore I see that people before me have made piles of plastic awaiting collection.


Macroplastic pieces litter the shoreline…


…and I realise that the object I saw from the road is a yacht that has been washed ashore, its surface now ironically covered with the graffiti of a bird’s jaw and skull.


But this time I am not so interested in larger plastic objects, it is the smaller plastic particles that are of more concern and of which I would like to view using the Foldscope.



“Its not what you see, its what you can’t see that matters most”.


I take various collections of recovered debris back to sort and make notes.




I categorise the plastic into type, and put some of the more brittle pieces into tubes.


Some of the plastic objects have degraded quicker than others and are crumbling leaving a fine powder residue on my fingers. These particles are what I will save  to look at under the Foldscope.


I was very excited to receive the Foldscope and perhaps a little daunted by the instructions, but they were very straight forward and I had no real problems.





Ready to go… now on to prepare the slides.


Particles from red bottle cap found in the North Atlantic Ocean.


… and under the Foldscope – these powder sized – now enlarged particles, are especially detrimental when ingested by creatures and filter feeders at the base of the food chain.



Or could it be Mars?


A metaphor for life? having existed?


Monofilament fishing line and plastic fibres from the North Atlantic Ocean.


Wow! this plastic fibre is the size of a hair!


Other smaller fibres from synthetic nets!



Slide prepared to see what a ‘plastic bag for life’ recovered from the Celtic Sea, Ireland, looks like under the Foldscope.



The fibres and shapes aren’t regular as I had imagined but random and almost cell-like. Whilst these are inanimate pieces of plastic they almost take on the appearance of a nucleus or membrane created from the very material that can prove fatal for themselves.






4 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    Wow (although the feeling’s terrible thinking about how we are clogging the oceans)! Cant wait to see your foldscope images and the range of sizes. It would be great to look at plankton from the areas of high plastic pollution.

  2. jlpappas says:

    Laks, you are right! To get an idea of the scope of this problem, see:


    Microplastics are a huge problem not only in the oceans, but also in freshwater such as the Great Lakes:


    Microplastics are ingested by plankton:


    An opportunity for Foldscope users to make some interesting findings about this very serious problem.

  3. jlpappas says:

    Hi Mandy,

    A very interesting post! I hope you will collect some plankton and try to find ingested microplastics. Fluorescence microscopy using color filters, or perhaps staining techniques (histological stains or even food dyes) may work. Try some experiments in slide preparation to see what you can find with your Foldscope!

  4. Pranavi says:

    Great post! It would be interesting to do a comparison of microscopic life in areas with lesser/no plastic as opposed to ones with higher density.

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