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New Sensor to Monitor Microplastics in Cape Cod Canal

Jennette Barnes
A crew installs a particle-imaging sensor at the Bourne Tidal Test Site, next to the Cape Cod Canal railroad bridge

An ocean technology company installed a particle sensor Tuesday in the Cape Cod Canal to monitor plankton and potential microplastics.

The company, Coastal Ocean Vision, is studying the movement of tiny plastic particles released by wastewater treatment facilities, according to John Miller, director of the nonprofit Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative.

“There's a number of these small sensor companies that have taken specific technologies, often developed at WHOI or Marine Biological Lab, and commercialized them,” he said.

One of the questions the company will look at in the Cape Cod Canal is whether microplastics are flowing into Buzzards Bay from the Deer Island wastewater plant in Boston Harbor, he said.

A crew went out by boat Tuesday to install the sensor, solar panel, and instrumentation at the Bourne Tidal Test Site, a platform near the railroad bridge.

Miller’s organization developed the test site, which allows equipment to be installed in strong currents and connected to instruments above water.

His group is interested in studying plankton as an anti-fouling device for tidal turbines, but he said it’s good to see the test site used for other things, as well.

“It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “Now, we can also use it for sensor testing ... and that's a much, much more active market, because of the number of spinoffs from Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution] that are on the Cape.”

Scientists and others from WHOI founded Coastal Ocean Vision.

The sensor captures high-resolution microscopic images, which get automatically translated into particle data and transmitted to researchers in near-real time.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.