Karly McMullen


Thesis Topic

The Galápagos Penguin as the “canary in the coal mine”: Investigating microplastics in Galápagos’ waters, microplastic bioaccumulation in the Galápagos Penguin via food web modeling, and Ecuadorian mangrove community perceptions on plastic pollution


Dr. Juan José Alava & Dr. Evgeny Pakhomov

Research Unit

Ocean Pollution Research Unit (OPRU)


As a passionate ocean sustainability advocate, I am working towards my MSc in UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) under the co-supervision of Dr. Juan José Alava (Ocean Pollution Research Unit) and Dr. Evgeny Pakhomov (IOF Director). I am thrilled to join Dr. Juan José Alava’s Ocean Pollution Research Unit as the team’s first master’s student.

My research aim is to advance the understanding of marine microplastic pollution and their implications, both on marine species and, ultimately, human beings who rely on a healthy ocean. As such, I will be using the endangered and quirky Galápagos penguin as my flagship species and “the canary in the coal mine”.

As part of Dr. Juan José Alava’s project “Study of microplastics in marine water and zooplankton around the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador”, I will take part in an oceanographic research expedition throughout Ecuador’s continental coast and the waters of the Galápagos Islands in order to collect samples of water and zooplankton and, in doing so, assess microplastic distribution and availability in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, I will use a food web model to infer the bioaccumulation of microplastics in the Galápagos penguin and the potential risks to the species. To address human perceptions of marine plastic pollution, I will conduct community surveys in Ecuadorian coastal mangrove communities.

I come to IOF with a unique multidisciplinary background in Communication Studies, Psychology and Business Management. A lifelong interest in marine conservation has led me to dive into a sustainability analyst role, volunteer citizen scientist positions, and many visits to exciting marine conservation efforts around the world.

I look forward to expanding our understanding of microplastic risks to ocean ecosystems, contributing to the fight towards cleaner oceans, and fostering a more sustainable and equal opportunity ocean resource.

Contact Information

Email: k.mcmullen@oceans.ubc.ca

Social Media

Twitter: @KarlyMcmullen
LinkedIn: KarlyMcMullen