Hayley McIlwraith

Hayley McIlwraith


I completed my Honours BSc from the University of Toronto (Canada) where I studied ecology and evolutionary biology. During my second year, I conducted a research project testing mitigation strategies for microplastics in laundry effluent. After this work, I became fascinated with microplastics research and have since worked on projects spanning questions relevant to sources and pathways, contamination and effects, and solutions to microplastics.

For my undergraduate thesis in my final year, I investigated the sources and fate of microplastics in a remote boreal ecosystem. I collected and analysed surface water and atmospheric deposition across an anthropogenic activity gradient in nine remote lakes in northwestern Ontario, Canada.  Through this project I observed first-hand the far-reaching consequences of our plastic waste. It is for this reason that I am pursuing a PhD investigating clean-up solutions for microplastic pollution at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of East Anglia.

Hayley McIlwraith

Ecology and Biodiversity

PhD title: Developing nature-based solutions to microplastic pollution

Microplastics (plastic < 5 mm) are accumulating in ecosystems across the globe. The harmful effects, both physical and chemical, on marine life and potentially human health has led to concern about plastic waste in our oceans. This project will examine whether mussels and macrophytes (e.g., saltmarshes, seagrasses) can effectively sequester microplastics and reduce contamination of marine environments.

Using laboratory and field experiments, I will:

(1) test the efficacy of using native species to stem the flow of microplastics; (2) evaluate individual and community-level effects from increased microplastics concentrations; and (3) design an effective nature-based solution to microplastic pollution. Ultimately, this project looks to the natural world to develop a solution that is both low cost and benign (or even beneficial) to the environment as a whole.


    McIlwraith HK, Kim J, Helm P, Bhavsar SP, Metzger JS, Rochman CM. 2021. Evidence of Microplastic Translocation in Wild-Caught Fish and Implications for Microplastic Accumulation Dynamics in Food Webs. Environ Sci Tech. 10.1021/acs.est.1c02922

    Rochman CM, Brookson C, Bikker J, Djuric N, Earn A, Bucci K, Athey S, Huntington A, McIlwraith H, Munno K, De Frond H…et al. 2019. Rethinking microplastics as a diverse contaminant suite. Environ Toxicol Chem 38(4):703-11, 10.1002/etc.4371

    McIlwraith HK & Lin J, Erdle LM, Mallos N, Diamond ML, Rochman CM. 2019. Capturing microfibers – marketed technologies reduce microfiber emissions from washing machines. Mar Pollut Bull 139, pp. 40-45, 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.12.012


  • Poster: McIlwraith HK, Dias M, Bucci K, Geils K, Hoffman M, Mallos N, Paterson M, Provencher J, Rennie M, Orihel D, Rochman CM. 2020. Assessment of microplastic contamination at the IISD-ELA along a gradient of anthropogenic activity. International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) Virtual.