Christine Knauss is examining how plastic pollution is affecting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
Hometown: Lutherville, Maryland
Co-advisors: Don Merritt and Jeff Cornwell, Horn Point Laboratory
What are you researching? I am examining how plastic pollution is affecting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Specifically, I look at a category of small plastics called microplastics, which is anything less than 5 millimeters. These come from larger pieces of plastic breaking down in the environment or they were manufactured to be tiny. Pieces this small can be available for organisms, especially oysters, to ingest. My research focuses on how larval oysters are affected when they ingest these microplastics.
Why it makes a difference: Microplastics are a global problem and are found in every body of water, even in the most remote areas. Plastic ingestion itself can be harmful to organisms because it can block the digestive system. Plastics also attract organic pollutants that are in the water, possibly creating new pathways for chemicals to get into organisms and the food chain.
How did you get interested in environmental science? I have been fascinated by science and the ocean since I was young, but I became serious about pursuing a path in environmental science during a scientific writing class in my undergraduate program. We were supposed to suggest to our “boss” which kind of coffee cups to use in the office—paper or Styrofoam—and why. Through this assignment, I learned about how widespread and harmful plastic pollution could be.
Why choose the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science? I started at UMCES as an intern in the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery after graduating from University of Maryland College Park in 2014. I spent that year applying to graduate programs and ended up staying as a Ph.D. student starting in 2015.
What stands out the most about UMCES? UMCES is a very unique program with students and campuses all around the state. It is pretty cool to be so far apart and researching in so many different fields yet being connected through this program and being able to learn from everyone.
What do you like to do in your free time? I love to travel and explore new cities and places. I love adventuring and doing anything outdoors, such as hiking, paddle boarding, and snowboarding.
What’s the most important thing people can do to help the environment? The most important thing that people can do is to be mindful of the choices we make every day, whether it is choosing a reusable water bottle over a disposable one, or not using single-use utensils. Making an environmentally conscious culture starts with every individual making a choice.
What are your future plans? I hope to take the knowledge and skills I have learned to help or build a non-profit to make visible changes in the plastic pollution problem.