Do you work directly to address Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation?
My research works to address clean water. I research microplastic pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems. We work to understand the sources, fate and effects. We ask questions that can inform policy – e.g., we determine the pathways bringing microplastics into aquatic ecosystems. We examine wastewater, agricultural runoff, urban runoff, and industrial effluent. Understanding these pathways can help us mitigate them as a source of microplastics to the environment. By understanding effects, we can inform risk thresholds – directly linked to informing policy.
What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?
For microplastics, long-term monitoring programs can measure whether we see a reduction in emissions and contamination.
What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy makers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?
For researchers, it is important that we work to get our work beyond the academic sphere. This can look like outreach to policy-makers, policy briefings, serving as an expert witness, etc… We do this in many ways through community education, scientific outreach, and via social and traditional media. My most productive experiences have been with outreach directly to policy-makers to share the scientific evidence that may inform decisions that make positive change.
What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?
I think whether or not to engage is up to the researcher, but I think it’s very important that some researchers do engage. Who better to explain our research than us, and when we are working on applied work it is important that our work informs decision-making. I think science needs a seat at the policy table, and by engaging we can help ensure we continue to get that seat.
What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?
My short-term goals are to continue to better understand microplastics as a contaminant in aquatic ecosystems and to share that work with practitioners. My long-term goals are to see measurable change that leads to healthier and cleaner water.
What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6?
I’d like to see measurable change in terms of protecting our waterways. This is critical for biodiversity and human health. I’d like to see more monitoring of contaminants and risk assessments that inform management decisions. I’d like to see us achieve our targets so that we can create new goals for continued improvement and protection of aquatic systems.
Chelsea received her PhD in Ecology from a joint program between University of California, Davis and San Diego State University in 2013. She then was a Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Biology. She is currently a Sloan Fellow. She was hired as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2016. Chelsea has been researching the sources, sinks and ecological implications of plastic debris in marine and freshwater habitats for more than a decade. She has published dozens of scientific papers in respected journals and has led international working groups about plastic pollution. In addition to her research, Chelsea works to translate her science beyond academia. For example, Chelsea presented her work to the United Nations General Assembly and at the US State Department. Moreover, she co-founded an outreach group call the U of T Trash Team. For more information visit www.rochmanlab.com