Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Juanita Urban-Rich

Second Advisor

Robert F. Chen

Third Advisor

Georgia Mavrommati


Transdisciplinary research is conducted with the intent to solve problems that are complex and in some cases, ‘wicked,’ particularly problems that involve an interface of human and natural systems. Plastics have been categorized as a ‘wicked problem’ complicated by multiple stakeholders. This research explores the problem of fiber microparticle (FMP) pollution, specifically FMP contamination in oyster habitats in Massachusetts. To understand this specific problem, I suggested a comprehensive decision-making process for microplastics/FMP integrating the principles of transdisciplinary research (Figure A1). I then engaged with both the Environmental Assessment and Social Assessment phases of this process to better inform decision-makers on this problem. For the Environmental Assessment, this research showed a range of FMP present in both water samples (at a range of 7 – 47 FMP per L in Boston Harbor and 8 – 11 FMP per L in coastal MA) and adult oysters (at a range of 0 – 192 FMP per oyster in Boston Harbor and 0 – 35 FMP per oyster in coastal MA). However, no spectroscopic analysis was completed to determine the types of polymers collected. Oyster larvae were exposed to polyester microfibers (PEMF) ranging from 5000 to 50,00,000 PEMF per liter including a zero-control for a 24-hr period and observed for an additional 7-days. Results showed a dose-dependent response for both survival and lipid percentage. For the Social Assessment phase, I engaged with stakeholders from the academic, government, non-profit, and industry sectors to understand how oysters are valued in MA and how those values may change as more information is gained about the interactions between oysters and microplastics via virtual workshops. Each workshop group was able to reach consensus on a particular task, suggesting that stakeholders representing different categories (and, thus, different agendas) can come to an agreement on this complex microplastics issue. Even with the encouragement of discourse and the presence of experts, microplastics science and the communication of that science is still imperfect. The results from both the Environmental Assessment and Social Assessment can be used to inform future mitigation strategies, policies, and laws on this issue.


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