Cecilia Martin is an Italian Ph.D. student in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) with an interest in assessing the pollution in the Red Sea. Her particular research focus is monitoring the abundance of microplastics and their interaction with the ecosystems and biota they pervade. She also investigates microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals and the microplastic burial rate in seagrass and mangrove sediments.
Martin's lab and fieldwork studies often see the young researcher on site investigating pollution buildup in the coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses of the Red Sea.
"My work [at KAUST] is a great mixture, it is very variable, and that is why I like it. I have taken part in fieldwork in many places. I can go on research cruises out into the middle of the sea; I can go on beaches and in mangroves and then I also work in the lab processing of samples or conducting experiments. There are easily accessible instruments and equipment here that I wouldn't find in my old university back in Milan," Martin said.
Upon completing her M.Sc. in coral reef ecology from the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2015, Martin saw the relatively unexplored coastal regions of the Red Sea as the perfect location to start her marine pollution-related studies. Former RSRC Center Director and PI of the Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology research group, Professor Carlos Duarte, also played a crucial role in Martin's decision to join KAUST in early 2016.
"Before joining KAUST, I followed an online open course on marine litter which raised my concern about this issue. When Carlos proposed that I work on marine plastic pollution at KAUST, I accepted without doubt because I had already gained knowledge on the issue thanks to the online course."
"Before I joined KAUST there was very little information regarding marine plastic pollution in the Red Sea and so we wanted to gain an insight into how much plastic is in the Red Sea and where the plastic is. With plastic pollution studies, you can always find new questions to answer research and new projects to work on, because plastic is everywhere" she noted.
In the future, Martin hopes that her work, and that of her colleagues, will help inform a public awareness regarding the extremely negative impact of plastic pollution in marine ecosystems in both Saudi Arabia and globally.
"Regarding cities with a high population density, the coastal regions of the Red Sea are not that well developed. So, technically there should be fewer people to cause plastic pollution. However, the volume of marine plastic created by these populations versus the actual population count is extremely high."
"I hope that we make people understand that microplastics pollution is a problem in Saudi Arabia. There is a huge amount of plastic on our seashores in the Kingdom. I think that the main goal of our research within the RSRC is to raise the awareness levels regarding plastic pollution in our marine environments not just in Saudi, but globally," Martin concluded.