Advisory Council Tours CC&E’s Zooplankton Ecology Laboratory

On Tuesday, April 25, Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Professor Mark Benfield treated CC&E Advisory Council members to a tour of his Zooplankton Ecology Laboratory in the Energy, Coast & Environment Building.


Benfield explained how the laboratory’s digital imaging systems, nets, and high-frequency acoustic instruments are used to count and identify zooplankton—tiny organisms in marine ecosystems that form the base of most marine food webs—in the ocean or in preserved samples. He discussed his work on 3-D imaging using remotely operated vehicles to study deep-sea biodiversity and observe marine life on the ocean floor near oil rigs. Wearing 3-D glasses, advisory council members saw video footage of animals that live at great ocean depths.

“It’s fascinating to view deep-sea marine life in 3-D,” said Advisory Council member Liz Hampton. “With the sophisticated instruments that Professor Benfield has at his disposal in the lab and in the field, the possibilities for impactful future research seem limitless.”

Benfield’s latest initiative is to study the emerging challenges posed by microplastic pollutants, plastics broken down into small pieces in the ocean, which can be found polluting water across the world. Small pieces of plastic can be found in commonly used everyday items such as toothpastes and soaps as they are quite difficult to filter out or be avoided by marine life.

The lab is quantifying the flux of microplastics in the Mississippi River at stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to try and understand how much plastic is being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico and our coastal waters. Council members were shown samples of plastics collected in the Mississippi River in Louisiana that may be negatively affecting the aquatic ecosystem. In addition to water samples, the lab has a stock of small frozen fish waiting to be investigated. Many fish have plastics in their stomachs.

“These tiny contaminants have the potential to disrupt planktonic ecosystems and human food supplies,” said Benfield. “We’re working to determine the effects these plastics may have on fish and humans.”

Benfield will discuss his research at the next LSU Science Café, which will be held on Tuesday, May 30, 5-7 p.m. at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge. All are welcome to attend. To register, or for more information, visit http://lsu.edu/research/news/LSU-science-cafe.php/