Ocean Clean-up Symposium 2019

17th - 19th December 2019

The Institute for Risk and Uncertainty at the University of Liverpool is planning to host a symposium and workshop on risk tradeoffs, with the removal of plastic pollution from oceans such as by The Ocean Cleanup project as the main example.

There will be three related events over three days. The symposium will introduce and explore the issues from many perspectives, including those of proponents from environmental groups and ocean ecologists. The workshop will be a collaborative event in which we will articulate risk analyses to address those issues. These analyses will employ stochastic demography, including uncertainty propagation for abundances, vital rates, and other variables that are known imprecisely.

We believe that finding quantitative answers to the questions of whether and by how much the benefits from plastics removal outweigh the potential risks to ocean organisms, and how they compare with harms from unabated accumulation of oceanic microplastics, can only be answered by modern quantitative environmental risk analysis at the interface between engineering and ecology.

Add to Calendar 02-10-2019 10:00 02-10-2019 17:00 Europe/London Showcase Conference 2019 Risk Institute Showcase conference 2019 Risk Institute Seminar room

Related events


On Thursday 22nd November the Risk Institute held a seminar posing the question: Should we remove plastics from the ocean's surface?

The increase in plastics in the oceans is a major area of concern for marine biologists. In an effort to address this problem, the startup firm Ocean Cleanup is already at work collecting plastics from the ocean's surface. However, any such operation is also likely to affect ocean surface organisms. Is the net effect on ocean surface organisms benign or adverse? Matt Spencer will present a model for this effect. This was a warm-up event for the symposium in December.

You can watch the seminar here


17th December 2019

Muspratt Lecture Theatre
10:00 Lonneke Holierhoek Introduction and moderated discussion
11:00 Rozemarijn Roland Holst A novel use of the high seas: the legal framework for the Ocean Cleanup
11:30 Judith Wolf Transport modelling - the work of the Marine Systems Modelling Group
12:00 Lunch Break  
13:00 Rebecca Helm Protecting Life on the High Seas
14:00 Fiona Culhane Ecosystem services in a data poor region
15:00 Clark Richards Can the ocean clean itself? A quantitative evaluation of "passive cleaning" technology
16:00 Megan Powell Modeling Velella, Ocean Trash, and Ocean Cleanup

18th December 2019

Risk Institute Seminar Room
10:00 Laurent Lebreton Modelling Surface Accumulation of Plastic
11:00 Matt Spencer Minimal models for the effects of Ocean Cleanup
12:00 Scott Ferson Answering the “so what?” question about environmental impacts
13:00 Lunch Break  
14:00 Workshop: How bad are plastics in the ocean, and what effects are they having on life there?

19th December 2019

Risk Institute Seminar Room
10:00 Morning Session Breakfast/Socialisation
12:00 Lunch Break  
13:00 Afternoon Session Workshop: How bad are plastics in the ocean, and what effects are they having on life there?

Event Layout

The event will be spread over three days, commencing with a symposium discussing the impact of plastics in the ocean and the efforts to remove them. A major factor that has been neglected in many environmental impact studies is how groups such as The Ocean Clean-up will effect neuston species who thrive on the surface of the oceans. This is gap in our understanding of this situation is compounded by a lack of demographic studies on these diverse species of plants and animals. Dr. Rebecca Helm, a specialist in jellyfish biology and critic of The Ocean Clean-up, will present the keynote lecture discussing how neuston have adapted to changes in their environment, and how the well-intentioned efforts to remove plastics may endanger this poorly understood ecosystem.

Our second day will start with talks by Scott Ferson, Matt Spencer and Megan Powell to frame the nature of an upcoming paper. Problems with The Ocean Clean-up's current system will be discussed, and the factors that will need to be taken into account when developing a model of it's impact on a variety of species. Following this, a "Hackathon" style workshop will ensue, with students and researchers alike splitting into groups to solve the proposed problems and contribute to development of a new model, building upon the work an international research team.

On our final day, the Risk Insitute will host a morning social of coffee and breakfast. Open to everyone, we can unwind before concluding the session with the second half of our "Hackathon". Teams will be allowed to present their models and discuss how they account for the variety of issues that can arise from placing a wall in the ocean. The research team will consolidate this information and identify which approach may work best, with the winning team having their work incorporated into a future research paper. After the event, attendees are invited to join us for an evening of dinner and drinks.


Rebecca Helm

University of North Carolina

Rebecca Helm is an Assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Jellyfish, development, and open ocean conservation.

Judith Wolf

National Oceanography Centre

Judith is a Principal Scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, UK. Her research interests include the modelling of tides, surges, waves and their interactions on the UK continental shelf and beyond; coastal and estuarine processes, wave-current interaction, wave climate and coastal impacts of climate change. In the last 10 years she has been involved in work on marine renewable energy, especially tidal energy.

Clark Richards

Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Clark Richards is a physical oceanographer working as Research Scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Scott Ferson

Scott Ferson is director of the Institute for Risk and Uncertainty at the University of Liverpool in the UK. For many years he was senior scientist at Applied Biomathematics in New York and taught risk analysis at Stony Brook University. He has over a hundred publications, mostly in risk analysis and uncertainty propagation, and is a fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis. His recent research, funded mostly by NIH and NASA, focuses on reliable statistical tools when empirical information is very sparse, and distribution-free methods for risk analysis.