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Turning the final page on a JPI Oceans bestseller: celebrating ten years of success as the Microplastics Joint Action concludes

The Microplastics Joint Action was one of the first thematic activities of JPI Oceans. It became a poster child of the power of collaboration among European countries, and it is now getting a happy ending. After a decade of groundbreaking research and agenda setting, the Management Board of JPI Oceans has decided at its meeting in April 2024 to conclude the Joint Action ‘Ecological Aspects of Microplastics’ on its peak of achievement.

Turning the final page on a JPI Oceans bestseller: celebrating ten years of success as the Microplastics Joint Action concludes

  • 27 May 2024

Starting in 2013 as a JPI Oceans ‘pilot action’, the countries’ masterminds behind this initiative anticipated the emerging threat to ecological and human health from microplastics pollution years before the concern rose prominently onto the agendas of societal debate and policy action. The formally adopted Joint Action of JPI Oceans provided a framework for enabling comprehensive pan-European research into the sources, distribution, and impacts of microplastics on marine ecosystems. 

Central to the productivity and longevity of this Joint Action were the two joint calls for proposals, which facilitated transnational collaboration among fifteen countries, namely Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. These countries committed over 18 million Euro to fund ten pioneering projects. From analysing the degradation of nano- and microplastic particles to assessing their ecological impacts, these projects spearheaded critical advancements in understanding and addressing microplastic pollution. This extensive mobilisation has transformed the discourse around plastics in the ocean from a scientific micro-concern to a global macro-challenge that is currently culminating in the ongoing UN negotiations on a global plastics treaty. 

In the first transnational joint call launched in 2014, four projects were funded. Their findings on ecotoxicological effects of microplastics, the weathering of plastics, and baselines for microplastics analyses in European basins are summarised in a short brochure intended for those who appreciate scientifically sound information but are unlikely to wade through scientific literature and long reports. 

A second joint call was launched in late 2018, with more in-depth research objectives such as identifying, characterising, and quantifying major microplastic sources, investigating the timescales of plastic fragmentation, including the effects of nano-scale particles and developing new sampling and analytical methodologies. The projects also aimed to monitor and map microplastics in the marine environment, innovate recycling methods to reduce plastic inputs into the ocean, raise public awareness, promote behavioural change, and conduct socio-economic analyses. Six new JPI Oceans projects were selected to run from 2020 until 2023. A new brochure with the extracts of scientific findings of these projects will soon be published by JPI Oceans. 

Notably, the Microplastics Joint Action navigated the science-policy interface with two prominent events held in the European Parliament in 2019 and 2023 in collaboration with the European Parliament Intergroups “Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas (SEARICA)” and “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development”, respectively. The latest event, titled "Small Particles, Big Concerns: Marine Microplastics Revisited" was fully dedicated on microplastics. MEPs Catherine Chabaud and Maria Spyraki emphasised the necessity for legislation to address the microplastics issue, as a remedy but above all as a preventive measure. 

As the Microplastics Joint Action draws to a close, its legacy endures with vibrant impacts. Innovative outputs such as the citizen science app from the Andromeda project continue to inspire and engage. This app was presented and actively used in events like the VLIZ Marine Science Day 2024, the Ocean Literacy in Action at the European Ocean Days and Science is Wonderful. These initiatives contributed to raising awareness, sparking curiosity and fostering a deeper understanding of microplastics among diverse audiences, ranging from schoolchildren to policymakers.  

The conclusion of this Joint Action truly marks the end of a pioneering endeavour that elevated the stature of JPI Oceans by underscoring our abilities for foresighting frontier topics and for delivering scientific knowledge into policy decision making. It is now for big European research and innovation programmes and for legislators to continue the legacy.