How harmful chemicals are transferred from the ocean to land is being researched by mgr Kinga Hoszek from the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography at the University of Gdansk. Her scientific work has been recognised with a prestigious CCAMLR scholarship. Kinga Hoszek's supervisors are dr hab. Magdalena Bełdowska, prof. UG and dr Anna Panasiuk from the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography, University of Gdańsk, while the scholarship winner's mentor will be dr Jefferson Hinke (NOAA, USA), an Antarctic biologist and ecologist who has been studying birds in the area for many years.
The fellowship will also enable the PhD student to work with other scientists specialising in the ecology of the Antarctic and give her the opportunity to present her research findings to the Ecosystem Monitoring and Management Working Group of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) - with the hope that they will contribute to the development of effective methods to protect the Antarctic environment. Kinga Hoszek is currently working on contaminants present in samples of water, zooplankton, and the eggshells, feathers and guano of penguins collected in the Antarctic.
'Toxic compounds, such as methylmercury or phenols, can disrupt population dynamics, leading to stunted reproduction and reduced penguin populations,' explains the laureate. 'Penguins nest on land but feed in the marine environment, including Antarctic krill (Euphausiasuperba). We assume that it is with their food that these harmful compounds enter not only their organisms but also, as an additional source besides atmospheric deposition, into the Antarctic terrestrial ecosystem.'
The aforementioned phenols do not occur in nature; they are only produced by man, for example, they can be released during the production of plastics. They are among the endocrinically active compounds harmful to humans and animals. The PhD student also studies other chemical compounds and toxic elements - such as PAHs, PCBs, mercury, cadmium, lead and other trace metals - and so-called critical elements in technology.
Kinga Hoszek has already collected water and zooplankton samples during an Antarctic research cruise in the South Shetland Islands (West Antarctica). The remaining research material - feathers, guano and penguin eggshells - was collected by scientists from the Department of Antarctic Biology at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Now, the young researcher has to analyse and interpret the data. In this process, the scholarship from the Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (SC-CCAMLR) is intended to help.
Submitting a scholarship application is only possible if the potential scholarship recipient has a suitable mentor who will provide support both in the context of their research and in preparing for CCAMLR committee meetings. In the case of Kinga Hoszek, this is the previously mentioned American ecologist, dr Jefferson T. Hinke.
'He is my guru when it comes to penguin topics. His research and publications helped me prepare my PhD proposal, so surely working with him will not only be a great honour for me but will also help me interpret the results,' explains the scholarship holder. 'In just a few months, I will have the opportunity to work with dr Jefferson Hinke in San Diego. The trip is also an opportunity to broaden my horizons, make contacts and observe research practices in foreign centres.'
Kinga Hoszek is the second person in Poland to receive a CCAMLR scholarship. The first, in 2014, was dr Anna Panasiuk.