Elizabeth May Chair in Environmental Health and Sustainability Candidate Research Talk: Dr. Erin Murphy

Dr. Erin Murphy
Post-Doctoral Researcher
Ocean Conservancy & University of Toronto

Title: Assessing the Risk of Macroplastic Pollution for Marine Megafauna

Abstract: Marine plastic pollution is found throughout the ocean, increasing in prevalence, and having significant ecological, economic, and social consequences across the globe. As a result, it has garnered international recognition as one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. This has prompted significant investments to reduce plastic pollution from a breadth of stakeholders; however, the complexity of the plastics problem makes management uniquely challenging. First, the use of plastics—which comprise a diverse group of materials that vary in chemical composition, shape, and structure—has increased exponentially over the last five decades and is now used by virtually everyone around the globe. Second, the plastics system is complex; this non-point source pollutant emanates from communities all over the world with numerous pathways of entry into marine ecosystems. Finally, although research in plastic pollution is growing at an impressive rate, important questions on the risks posed by plastics and the most effective solutions to address it remain. Through an applied approach, I collaborate with decision makers to conduct research on both ecological and social dimensions of plastic pollution to inform more effective management. First, risk assessments have been identified as important tools for informing environmental thresholds for plastic pollution. I present novel frameworks for conducting both qualitative and quantitative risk assessments for macroplastic pollution and apply them to marine megafauna—sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. Second, I explore the broader social-ecological impacts of plastic pollution and plastic pollution interventions, presenting research and decision support tools that can be applied to evaluate the effectiveness of a broad range of interventions. My findings emphasize that social-ecological outcomes, cost, equity, and external impacts of intervention should be considered in developing context-specific solutions to maximize policy efficacy. By bridging the gap between research and practical application, my work contributes to the ongoing global efforts to tackle marine plastic pollution, offering actionable insights for informed decision-making.

Bio: I am a marine conservation ecologist conducting policy-driven research to improve the social and ecological health of coastal communities. I am currently working as a post-doctoral researcher with Ocean Conservancy and University of Toronto to study social and ecological consequences of plastic pollution and the benefits of marine debris removal. In this position, I am leading research on macroplastic risk assessments to better understand the mortality risk macroplastic ingestion poses to marine megafauna. Additionally, I serve as a co-chair for a National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS) working group on the social costs of plastic pollution.

Outside of my postdoctoral position, I hold an adjunct faculty appointment at Arizona State University where I serve as the Program Lead of Pollution and Environmental Policy for the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. In this role, I have two main areas of research on (1) the impacts of land-based pollution (e.g., turbidity, nutrients) in marine ecosystems and (2) upstream interventions for marine plastic pollution.

I completed my Ph.D. in Biology at Arizona State University in the Ecology, Economics, and Ethics of the Environment program, advised by Dr. Leah Gerber and Dr. Beth Polidoro. My dissertation research focused on the impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems. Specifically, I conducted research and developed tools to inform more effective, cost-efficient, and equitable intervention strategies for marine plastic pollution. During my Ph.D., I also led research on sustainable fishery certifications and U.S. pesticide registration policy.

Outside of academic research, I am committed to policy research and development. Before entering my Ph.D. program, I worked as an ORISE research fellow in the EPA's Ocean and Coastal Management Branch, in Washington D.C. In this role, I developed recommendations for federal vessel sewage standards and Florida turbidity standards. For the six years, I have worked to inform plastic policy with several non-profit organizations across scales of governance.

Personal Website: https://elmurph1.wixsite.com/home/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erin-murphy-88312994/




Milligan Room, 8th Floor Biology-Earth Sciences Wing, Life Sciences Centre, Dalhousie University