Céline Mollet-Saint Benoît: A Study in Plastics Awareness and Accessibility
For the third straight year, Microplastic Awareness Month has been observed in September. With the use of plastics becoming more prevalent and problematic across the globe, Georgia State graduate student Céline Mollet-Saint Benoît has dedicated her research on the health of our coastal ecosystems. It all started for her long ago, whether she knew it or not.
C: One of my earliest memories was at the age of four or five, my mom took me to the national wildlife refuge in Florida and had me do a beach clean-up.
Celine’s mother was an anthropologist and she has been fortunate to experience much of the world. A substantial portion of her childhood was spent in Malaysia, where she witnessed the abrupt decline of sea turtle nesting populations firsthand – all due to marine debris.
C: It put a little seed in my mind that has been cultivated over the years.
After completing her undergraduate degree in biology, Celine spent three years working with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Melbourne Beach, Florida. This field experience, as well as previous research into the impact of algal blooms on sea turtle populations, sparked her further interest into the anthropogenic effects spurred by our ever-changing human-environment interactions. Thus, her graduate research at Georgia State began.
C: I have been working with [the Georgia Sea Turtle Center] on Jekyll Island. I established a census of the marine debris at two periods over the summer: the beginning and end of the loggerhead turtle nesting season.
At every half-kilometer down the beach, Celine would collect data on the present debris and geographically tag it with coordinates using the Marine Debris Tracker app. There was a marked increase of debris near more developed areas, and she declares plastic bottles and cigarette butts to be the most common occurrences.
For the plastics that cannot be detected with the naked eye, Celine is gearing up to do lab analyses on sand samples taken from within sea turtle nesting cavities and extracting any microplastics from these to understand the extent to which sea turtle nests are being plagued by threats both clear and unclear.
C: This is going to be a long-term backbone for me: asking what are we doing now that is impacting our coastal ecosystems. Minimizing our use of plastics is the hot thing right now; it wasn’t ten years ago. Going forward, I would really like to be the bridge between the scientific community and the everyday community.
Celine’s future is a bright and inspiring one. Her goal is not to just learn through her research, but to connect with the general public in hopes of being a catalyst for change. And for students considering their own futures, Celine has these parting words of advice:
C: Nothing is without its challenges. Don’t think that just because you haven’t figured it out yet that you won’t eventually. There is no banner at the end saying “you made it!” Just explore.