The University of the Highlands and Islands is leading 30 island universities from across the world in an open letter to the United Nations, European Union, Scottish Government and the UK Government.

The letter calls for urgent action on the threats posed to the world’s islands, in particular, by micro plastics in our oceans.

Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in lakes, seas and oceans, posing a threat to aquatic life.

University of the Highlands and Islands’ principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Clive Mulholland, is the president of Reseau d’Excellence des Territoires Insulaires (RETI), the worldwide federation of island universities.

Many RETI member universities have researchers actively investigating this issue and they have agreed to act now on behalf of islands across the world.

Professor Clive Mulholland explained: “There is an issue of growing anxiety for scientists and the public alike.

"As a federation of island universities who are more affected by the impact of micro plastics on our campus environment, we are already committed to doing all we can through further research and academic collaboration.

"However, we also wanted the big players in this worldwide issue to recognise that we can work with them to tackle this global concern, through our academic expertise and commitment.”
The letter says: "I write on behalf of RETI (Réseau d’Excellence de Territoires Insulaires – a global network comprising 28 island universities), which has been bringing researchers, academics and students together in collaboration for almost tenyears.
We share many common areas of interest, including marine science, and many of our members host world-class marine research facilities

"Much of our recent discussion has centred around common concerns on the threats posed by micro plastics in our oceans, an issue of growing anxiety for scientists and the public alike, across the globe.

"As a global network of island universities, we are extremely worried about the impact of micro plastics on our island nations from the perspective of the environment – and also our coastlines, tourism, fishing and aquaculture, health and our island communities. 

"We welcome the recent initiative from the European Commission ‘Clean energy for EU islands’, which recognises the urgent need for action and the specific role of island communities.

"We welcome the recognition from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on last year’s World Environment Day, citing ‘From remote islands to the Arctic, nowhere is untouched.  If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish.’[1]

"The RETI partners listed below have already committed to doing all we can through further research and academic collaboration.

"As a group from island universities, we would welcome the opportunity to work with you to help address this growing global concern.

"This is a global concern – the answer must lie in global cooperation and we stand at the ready to contribute our expertise and commitment."

This letter is also signed by:

  • Prof Paul-Marie Romani, Università di Corsica Pasquale Paoli
  • Prof Frédéric Miranville, Université de la Réunion
  • Prof Maria Del Zompo, Università degli Studi di Cagliari
  • Prof Godfrey Baldacchino, Università ta’ Malta
  • Prof Rafael Robaina Romero, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • Prof Jose Manuel Cunha Leal, Universidade da Madeira
  • Prof Mutsumi Nishida, University of the Ryukyus
  • Prof Jin-Ping Ueng, National Penghu University
  • Dr Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Dr Gary Kachanoski, Memorial University of Newfoundland