Professor Thompson from the University of Plymouth has jointly been awarded the prize with Professor Tamara Galloway OBE, from the University of Exeter, and Professor Penelope Lindeque from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, for their pioneering research into global plastic pollution.

The award, sponsored by the Asahi Glass Foundation, is presented to individuals or organisations who have made significant contributions to the resolution of global environmental problems.

They have been collaborating on various initiatives since 2007, and this is the second time in a year that their ongoing collaboration has been recognised through an international accolade, after they received the Volvo Environment Prize 2022. They also collectively won both the Societal Impact category and overall prize in the Natural Environment Research Council’s 2018 Impact Awards.

The trio demonstrated the existence of microplastics in the ocean, and have since charted the presence of plastics from the deep ocean to the highest mountains. They revealed microplastics are ingested by zooplankton and other marine species, and have made major advances in understanding the effects of microplastics on a wide range of marine organisms and ecological processes.

They have influenced global policy, legislation and action, calling on the international community to develop solutions that will help to address the growing problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, and helped inform the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution that was signed by 175 nations in March 2022.

Furthermore, they have also raised public awareness and alerted industry about the dangers of microplastic pollution through television documentaries and other media, policy briefings and high-level presentations.

Prof. Richard Thompson, Prof. Tamara Galloway and Prof. Penelope Lindeque, commented:

“We are truly honoured to have been selected as recipients of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize. This award is further recognition that plastic pollution represents a global threat to the health of the ocean, its ecosystems and organisms, and the economies that rely on it.”

“Our interdisciplinary research has progressed from establishing the presence of microplastics in the marine environment to developing techniques determining the risks presented by plastics and the chemicals they contain, while providing solutions to prevent their spread and influencing global legislation around their use.”

“We continue to work towards a shared vision of a healthy and productive ocean for future generations, a goal shared by the many scientists, students and partners who we have worked alongside over the past two decades and more.”

“We hope our research continues to underpin innovation that fosters a more sustainable use of plastic in a circular economy, and inspires individual and collective action around the use and management of plastic in societies”.