From combatting invasive species in National Parks to producing degradable plastics: A Green Solution

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One third of the world’s plastics end up in the ocean where they biopersist, creating formidable challenges for wildlife and habitats. Audrey Moores and her team at McGill University have discovered an innovative way to turn crustacean shell waste into biodegradable plastics, which could break down under oceanic conditions.

The European green crab is an aggressive invasive species and causes ecosystem collapse via cascading effects around the world where it is not native. In eastern North America for example, it rips up vast quantities of eelgrass, which is nursery habitat for marine species, stabilizes marine sediments, and is a primary food for geese, turning lush underwater landscapes into muddy moonscapes. Each female can produce in excess of 175,000 eggs, providing a seemingly endless supply. Chris McCarthy and Gabrielle Beaulieu from Parks Canada have developed a surgically precise fishing methodology, which will extract green crabs from the ecosystem with minimal by-catch mortality.

Now imagine a future where one of the most prolific and destructive marine invasive species is controlled, harvested and processed into sustainable bioplastics. McGill University and Parks Canada have formed a partnership to develop this innovative, sustainable solution.

We are thus seeking community support to turn this invasive species challenge into a global solution to the plastics dilemma. By using biochemical components of European green crab, not only will this project develop a marine biodegradable plastic, but it will also enhance the recovery of deteriorated coastal ecosystems and provide a new industry to sustain coastal fishing communities.

PROJECT TEAM

  • Audrey Moores is an associate professor at McGill University, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry (2007-2017), co-lead of the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative – Material and co-founder and CEO of ChitoDry Inc.

  • Chris McCarthy is the Resource Conservation Manager for the Mainland Nova Scotia Field Unit of Parks Canada. His team piloted the harvest of European green crabs in a controlled study to restore coastal ecosystems at Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. This project provided foundational information for the creation of a commercial green crab fishery in southwest Nova Scotia.

  • Gabrielle Beaulieu is the Coastal Restoration Project Manager at Kejimkujik Seaside. She manages restoration activities at the park and has created unique tourism opportunities including Gone Crabbin’ where visitors pay to help restore the coastal ecosystem by fishing crabs. She has also fostered partnerships to create high-end culinary products and experiences with green crab.

  • A full-time researcher (to be identified) will be hired for this project. We will look for a recent graduate with an MSc or PhD in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Food, or Environmental Sciences from either the Quebec or the Nova Scotia pool. We will use the month of September to identify such a candidate by aggressive advertising and email blast to universities in both pools

WHY DONATE TO THIS PROJECT?

Funders will receive social media and/or email updates on progress towards the goal of operationalizing the creation of bio-degradable products from invasive crab shells. Any donors over a fixed amount will receive a free tour of the estuaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site with experienced staff to witness the spectacular beauty of our isolated white sand beaches and learn about the successes and challenges of ecosystem management in Atlantic estuaries. This will include a chance to pull traps, learn about ecosystem species, processes and threats and contribute to science and management objectives. Additionally, we will offer some bioplastic ‘coins’ with the ChitoDry logo and Kejimkujik’s logo as a gift to any major project donors.

Parks Canada Partnership

Parks Canada will lead the engagement of stakeholders and communities by directly contributing raw material to this initiative through local community harvesting agreements and liaising with existing green crab license holders throughout southwest Nova Scotia. Through established and wildly popular visitor experience programs such as Gone Crabbin’ and the Great Canadian Green Crab Hunt, we will engage visitors and coastal communities and continue to develop special events on-site which will highlight the necessity and innovation of this work. By establishing a marketable product from green crabs, and through collaborations with licensed green crab fishers, community and public support for this project will grow and be promoted through the industry, social media and traditional media platforms.        

Stay tuned for the launch of our Seeds of Change page!


 

DR. AUDREY MOORES

 
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Audrey Moores is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry (2007-17) at McGill University, where she started her independent career in 2007. She completed her PhD from the Ecole Polytechnique, France in 2005, under the supervision of Prof. Pascal Le Floch and received the Best Thesis award of the Ecole Polytechnique that year. She was a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University in 2006 under the guidance of Prof. Robert H. Crabtree, funded by a Lavoisier fellowship from the European Union.

She is a leading expert in the field of catalysis using metal, metal oxide and biomass-based nanomaterials, with a special emphasis on sustainable processes and use of earth abundant starting materials.

She is the associate director of the Facility for Electron Microscopy Research (FEMR) at McGill since 2017. She was the co-associate director of the CCVC for 4 years (2012-2016) and the scientific director in the board of GreenCenter Canada, an Ontario-based tech transfer company (2017-2019). She is a member of the advisory board of the Green Chemistry Institute (America Chemical Society) since 2018. Since 2016, she is an associate editorship for ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

She received a Discovery Accelerator Supplement Award in 2018 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, was invited by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization for to teach a 5-day workshop in South Africa in the fall 2018 and was recognized as one of the three finalists for the McGill Principal’s prize for public engagement through media in 2019. In 2022, she will co chair the Gordon Research Conference in Green Chemistry.