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MEC and Vancouver Aquarium embark on study of microplastics in BC marine environments

Research will map microfibre profiles against common materials; provide clues for textile innovation

Vancouver, BC (Monday, March 13, 2017) Two leading Canadian organizations, MEC and the Vancouver Aquarium, have struck a unique partnership to generate insight on microplastic pollution. The popular outdoor retailer/clothing and gear manufacturer and the global marine conservation organization have formed an agreement to research microplastics, in particular synthetic microfibres (polyester, nylon, acrylic) as may be found in marine environments on Canada’s West Coast.

The research will be conducted by Dr. Peter Ross and his team through the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, which was launched in 2014 to deliver scientific research and advice pertaining to priority ocean pollution topics. MEC is providing a $50,000 grant (outside its community investment program) to study specific sources of microfibre pollution (by material type and discharge pathway) for one year.

Although existing research has shown that microfibres exist in Canadian marine and freshwater environments – including near major coastal cities and the Great Lakes ‒ the original sources of these fibres or how fibres disperse through the water column or affect marine species are poorly understood.

The study is believed to be the first in Canada to attempt to link microfibres found in aquatic environments to common materials used in clothing.

Akin to forensic fingerprinting analysis, Vancouver Aquarium’s new Fourier transform infared (or FTIR) spectrometer will be a powerful tool used to identify the kinds of microfibres found in ocean water based on their chemical composition. The information will then be mapped across various textile products and discharge pathways.

Virtually all clothing ‒ synthetic or otherwise – sheds fibres through normal wear and tear and laundering. When cleaned in household washing machines, fibres are pumped into drain pipes along with grey water. In turn, millions of fibres are likely discharged through municipal wastewater treatment facilities into marine and fresh water. While some removal is thought to occur during wastewater treatment, a significant amount of microfibres often elude screening.


MEC Chief Product Officer Jeff Crook: “We have been working diligently for well over a decade to reduce the environmental footprint of MEC-brand products. Two themes that run through that effort are collaboration and harnessing the power of science to help us design and manufacture more benign products. Understanding the exact sources of microfibre pollution may offer insight into how to re-engineer textiles to reduce fibre shedding.”

Vancouver Aquarium’s Dr. Peter Ross: “Microplastic pollution represents one of the most perplexing and daunting threats to ocean life. Our partnership with MEC will greatly advance our ability to identify sources of the countless tiny plastic particles and fibres we see in the marine environment. This line of research is key to designing solutions that will stem the release of these particles and protect ocean life.”

About MEC

MEC is Canada’s go-to place for outdoor gear, know-how and inspiration. Combining high-quality apparel and equipment with expert advice and firsthand experience, MEC supports a wide range of activities including camping, snowsports, watersports, cycling, climbing, hiking, running and travel. Established in 1971, MEC has been a strong backer of community initiatives and has invested $44 million (and counting) into non-profit organizations that support outdoor recreation and conservation. For more information, visit and follow @mec, or visit one of our stores nationwide.

About Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life.

For more information and to arrange an interview about the microplastic research project, please contact:

Deana Lancaster Vancouver Aquarium 604-659-3752 (direct)