Fernanda Avelar Santos
Fernanda doing fieldwork at Tartarugas Beach, Trindade Island in 2019, where she first found plastistones Author: Fernanda Avelar Santos
2024

Fernanda Avelar Santos

Geologist and Marine Scientist

pollution, plastistones, and pathfinders

meet fernanda

Fernanda Avelar Santos, a Brazilian geologist and marine scientist, has a wealth of expertise in environmental geology, specializing in marine environments and oceanic islands. During her Ph.D. research on Trindade Island, she initially investigated geological hazards, leading to the unexpected finding of plastistones—rocks formed by melted plastic. This revelation raises concerns about persistent pollution, especially in critical remote areas for green turtles, highlighting the impact of human-induced phenomena in the Anthropocene. As a postdoctoral researcher and grantee of The São Paulo Research Foundation, Fernanda focuses on plastic rocks, exploring factors controlling sedimentary deposits and studying the distribution, accumulation, and degradation of plastic litter in marine and beach sediment. Passionately dedicated to marine research, she finds fulfillment in actively participating in marine scientific expeditions. 

pollution, plastistones, and pathfinders
Nominated by: Joe Grabowski, FI'18
Class of 2024 Location Brazil
Follow fernanda's work:
Fernanda collecting beach sediment for microplastic analysis on Tartarugas Beach, Trinidade Island
Fernanda collecting beach sediment for microplastic analysis on Tartarugas Beach, Trinidade Island Author: Fernanda Avelar Santos

My journey was sparked by an unwavering passion for exploration, fueled in large part by my admiration for Charles Darwin— my foremost influence. Enthralled by his groundbreaking work and the pivotal islands he studied, including significant ones in Brazil, I found myself drawn to marine environments and oceanic islands. My involvement in plastic rocks work deepened during my Ph.D. research on Trindade Island, where I first delved into geological hazards. The unexpected finding of plastistones shifted the course of my exploration, compelling me to unravel the complexities of plastic pollution in the geological cycle. My desire to understand and mitigate the impact of human-induced phenomena on our planet motivates me daily. 

A pivotal moment in my exploration unfolded in the isolated expanse of Trindade Island, where the only access is through Brazilian Navy ships after days of travel from Rio de Janeiro. Over the course of an expedition spanning more than 60 days, I made an unexpected discovery: plastistones. Within a 12-square-meter area of beach, rocks formed by melted plastic emerged, laying bare the intricate interplay between human-induced pollution and the remote, seemingly untouched ecosystem.

I delve into the microscale, exploring the structure, mineral composition, and chemical makeup of plastistones. This approach not only provides insights into the geological consequences of human activities but also underscores the urgent need for collective responsibility in preserving our planet.

- Fernanda Avelar Santos
Fernanda doing fieldword at Parednao Volcano, Trinidade Island
Fernanda doing fieldword at Parednao Volcano, Trinidade Island Author: Fernanda Avelar Santos

The most meaningful aspect of my work lies in the depths of curiosity and sadness I feel when studying the plastistones. Every examination of plastistones unravels not just their scientific intricacies but the broader implications of persistent pollution, particularly in the region with the highest concentration of green turtle nests in Brazil. My work pushes the boundaries of exploration by transcending traditional geological studies. I delve into the microscale, exploring the structure, mineral composition, and chemical makeup of plastistones. This approach not only provides insights into the geological consequences of human activities but also underscores the urgent need for collective responsibility in preserving our planet. At its core, my exploration is fueled by a profound connection to marine environments, a passion for diverse landscapes, and an unwavering commitment to uncovering the realities of plastic pollution in our oceans. 

Fernanda doing fieldwork at Príncipe Beach, Trindade Island
Fernanda doing fieldwork at Príncipe Beach, Trindade Island Author: Fernanda Avelar Santos
never stop exploring

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