GeoTalk: meet Freija Mendrik, researcher of microplastics pollution in coral reefs!

Freija Mendrik
Hi Freija. Thank you for joining us today! Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself before we dive in?
Hi Simon, thanks for inviting me! I’m a marine scientist based in the UK specialising in microplastic pollution but my work has taken me across many different disciplines from physical geography to ecotoxicology. Recently my research has focused on trying to understand what impacts the transport of microplastics in aquatic systems from rivers out to the oceans which included field work in the Mekong River of Cambodia and Vietnam but also experiments in the lab. My current project is all about how coral reefs of Vietnam are being impacted by microplastic pollution. I’m also really passionate about marine conservation and collaborative scientific communication, and express my research and advocacy through art, social media and film. I also lead expeditions with Sail Britain, an organisation working to promote ocean literacy through exploration and education.


How does microplastic pollution impact corals and the environment?

Freija Mendrik

Freija Mendrik

Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in size which means they are easily transported and available to organisms of all sizes. This means they are a huge environmental threat. They have been found to cause harm in so many different species but can also carry disease and have now been found inside humans with the full repercussions currently unknown. As for corals, as they are filter feeders they can easily accidentally ingest microplastics that are in the water column. Lab studies have shown that this can harm coral health, growth and survival. This may have implications for the entire reef ecosystem which is already threatened by many environmental issues such as climate change. However, many questions remain about what is actually happening on reefs right now in terms of plastic pollution, which is what my research is exploring.


Media coverage of microplastics often evoke fears of an unseen, invasive threat. As a science communicator, do you have any advice about discussing such a sensitive topic with non-experts?

I think it’s important to be realistic – microplastics are everywhere now and it is a huge environmental crisis that needs urgent action. But media coverage can be a bit over the top with fear mongering which is not always helpful. There are some “facts” out there about plastic pollution that have maybe been a bit exaggerated but have been spread by the press. Yes, it might spur people into action but if all you talk about is doom and gloom, people are going to switch off. I think there is a fine balance which can be hard to achieve – it’s important to talk about the facts but it’s equally important to talk about solutions and what is being done. So, when communicating these issues to non-experts make sure what you are saying is backed by evidence and try and put a positive side on it too, maybe even a call to action, so people can get involved and remain optimistic.


You are also conservationist who advocates for better ocean health, including microplastics and beyond. Do you think it’s important that scientists engage with topics beyond the research environment?

Freija Mendrik

Freija Mendrik

Yes absolutely! Engaging the public with science is so important if we want to push for change.

We’ve seen what public pressure can do, especially recently, and it’s more important than ever. It’s also great for your communication skills if you can explain an abstract concept to the public.  When you have the public talking about these things too that’s when you really see the big changes. For example, with Blue Planet II, the increased media attention on ocean issues, especially plastic pollution, is thought to have caused a huge change in consumer behaviours and policy changes. Of course, you don’t have to be part of a huge documentary to make a difference; getting people interested and involved in science in any way, from school talks to social media and science festivals, is vital to getting them excited about these topics. This will then hopefully lead to people wanting to help protect the environment too.


Finally, what’s next on the horizon for you?

Hah well that’s a very good question! I’m coming to the end of my current project and so I’m looking for my next role. To be completely honest, I’m unsure if that will be in academia. Science communication and outreach is really important to me, as is research – so whatever I do next needs to include all of those! I want to get more involved with communities and education. Sharing my love for the ocean with others is really rewarding so I hope to do more of that!

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Simon Clark is the Project Manager at the European Geosciences Union, where he oversee project, community, and organisational development. Simon is also the point of contact for early career scientists (ECS) at the EGU Executive Office. They have a PhD in Ecohydraulics and Environmental Engineering from the University of Liverpool, UK. Beyond research, Simon also has a strong interest in science-communication, -art, and -storytelling. You can find Simon on twitter @kelpiesi.


  1. Her research on microplastics pollution in coral reefs highlights the urgent need for environmental awareness. Kudos to her for tackling such a crucial topic and contributing to the protection of our precious marine ecosystems.

  2. I must say, your blog has truly captured my attention!

  3. I greatly appreciate the depth of knowledge and expertise you bring to your chosen topics. Your ability to simplify complex concepts and present them in an accessible manner is commendable. I’ve learned so much from reading your posts, and I can confidently say that your blog has become my go-to resource for reliable information.

  4. Looking ahead, what are some of the key areas of research and exploration within the field of microplastics pollution in coral reefs that Freija Mendrik believes are worth investigating further? Are there any emerging technologies or innovative approaches that show promise in mitigating the effects of microplastics on coral reef ecosystems?

  5. This article is very knowledgeable


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