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IAEA Highlights Atomic-Scale Solutions for Human Health and the Ocean at Monaco Forum


Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories Florence Descroix-Comanducci speaks to scientific experts on marine environmental protection gathered virtually and on site at an international forum in Monaco. 

The IAEA and the Government of Monaco have a long history of shared commitment towards science-based solutions for sustaining the world’s oceans and protecting people’s health. Established with the support of Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1961, the IAEA’s first international laboratory of marine radioactivity made nuclear science matter for the protection of marine environment.

Over 700 global scientific experts on marine environmental protection gathered virtually and on site at an international forum in Monaco earlier this month to discuss the various risks human activities expose the oceans to, and the potential impact of ocean degradation to human health. At this global forum, IAEA experts emphasized the importance of nuclear science for the protection of marine ecosystems.

The health of oceans and people

The role of nuclear derived applications for health and the oceans was the focus of an IAEA presentation delivered at the first International Symposium on Human Heath and the Ocean in a changing world, organized by the Scientific Centre of Monaco from 2 to 3 December.  

It discussed the work of the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco and how the IAEA assists governments around the world with knowledge and tools to better understand marine ecosystems, vital for human health and well-being.

"Nuclear and isotopic techniques are instrumental in understanding and proposing marine pollution mitigation strategies and providing tools to deal with the environmental impact of various contaminants, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and climate change," said Florence Descroix-Comanducci, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories.

Descroix-Comanducci shared the IAEA’s experience of nearly sixty years in delivering nuclear science-based solutions to experts in countries around the world and helping to address their most pressing marine environmental challenges.  

“Atomic-scale analytical tools, such as radiotracers, allow scientists to accurately trace the movement of various contaminants in the environment and marine organisms and assess their transfer to the food chain, including to humans,” she said.

At the plenary session on ocean health and threats to human health, Descroix-Comanducci talked of the role of nuclear science and applications for advancing knowledge of the processes related to climate- and ocean-change, as well as to pollution that threaten seafood and human health.

She explained that a changing climate is also changing an ocean chemistry as the ocean absorbs one fourth of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by human activities.

“A process, known as ocean acidification, negatively impacts certain marine organisms with wide ranging implications to coastal communities and associated economies reliant on a healthy ocean,” she said. “Nuclear derived techniques are powerful tools to study how the ocean is changing in the short- and long-term and can offer methods to build resilience in coastal and marine ecosystems. They offer a unique capability to study the rates of biological processes in marine organisms, such as mussels, oysters and corals,” she said.

The presentation session allowed participants to understand anthropogenic perturbations that threaten global seafood and impact human health and ways how global scientific community can make a positive shift.

“We work with a wide array of scientific partners, including scientific community in Monaco, on solutions to address diverse marine stressors such as deoxygenation, ocean acidification, contamination, harmful algal blooms, and marine plastics drawing on our unique expertise in nuclear science and technology,” Descroix-Comanducci said.

Radiotracers to Tackle Marine Plastics

IAEA Research Scientist Rafael Bermudez Monsalve presents to the symposium participants the latest IAEA reseach studies on the impact of microplastic pollution on marine organisms and ecosystems. (Photo: IAEA)

IAEA experts also participated in a session on the relationship between ocean pollution and human health.

“Nuclear and isotopic techniques make an important contribution to measuring marine plastic pollution and tracking microplastic particles in aquatic environment,” said Rafael Bermudez Monsalve, Research Scientist at the IAEA Environment Laboratories.

“Methods developed by IAEA researchers using atomic-scale techniques allow to precisely quantify the movement, fate and impact of plastic particles and associated contaminants on a range of aquatic biota such as mussels, oysters, fish under controlled laboratory conditions,” he said, presenting methods and conclusions of several research initiatives implemented at the IAEA.

“For example, by using radiotracers such as carbob-14, IAEA researchers were able to study how pollutants such as PCB’s ‘attach’ themselves to microplastics in the aquatic environment and track further the fate of co-contaminated microplastic particles,” Bermudez Monsalve explained.

“In terms of quantifying microplastics in historic samples, the first-ever long-term study that the IAEA has conducted on the abundance of marine plastic pollution in the coastal waters of Ecuador, shed light into future scenarios, projecting an increase in microplastics 12 times by 2100,” said Bermudez Monsalve.

As microplastic pollution in marine environment has become one of today’s most pressing global environmental challenges, nuclear technologies can support decision making with science-based evidence to assess and tackle the effects of microplastic pollution, he added.

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