Western Sydney University researches microplastics in Hawkesbury River

A joint effort to assess the number of microplastics present in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River had Western Sydney University (WSU) team up with residents at Windsor Beach recently.

WSU researchers and students, as well as Streamwatch and Greater Sydney Landcare volunteers and members of the community, participated in a hands-on workshop called 'Hawkesbury-Nepean Riverkeeper Community Day' on World Environment Day (June 5).

The workshop was led by Dr Michelle Ryan from WSU's School of Science who explained that it is necessary to explore the impacts of microplastics as an emerging pollutant on freshwater systems.

"We were delighted to see a number of community members from a variety of backgrounds attend the workshop. Some volunteer regularly and others were just interested community members who care about improving the health of the waterway," said Dr Ryan.

"On the day, we split into four groups and ran transects on the high tide line. We then sifted for microplastics by putting sediment and sand through different size sieves into trays which we took back to the lab to examine under the microscope."

The community also had the opportunity to look at samples from Yarramundi and Sackville, which had been collected and dried a few days previously.

The Hawkesbury River is such an important river, it is used for agriculture, drinking water, recreation, and has cultural significance.

Catherine Welsh

The data collected will be analysed formally by Dr Ryan and her team at lab facilities at WSU Hawkesbury campus. The findings will inform the first 'report card' on the waterway to be released later this year.

Initial results show that the community found up to six pieces of microplastic per gram of riverbank, which is less than previous counts.

Dr Ryan believes this was due to the recent flooding.

Catherine Welsh, who is studying a Master of Philosophy at WSU and was present for the workshop, said: "It was a great experience to be back in the field and the lab and to help guide members of the community through sampling. It also was lovely to connect with other students on the day that were helping out who were passionate about conserving the waterway."

"The Hawkesbury River is such an important river, it is used for agriculture, drinking water, recreation, and has cultural significance," said Ms Welsh.

"It's vital to engage with the community and educate them on why we should protect our waterways, not only for us but for the biodiversity that live within the river, like the platypus."