Who’s who in the Zoo – Ellie Mackay

In this week’s edition of Who’s who in the Zoo, meet Mission Director of The Plastic Tide, Ellie Mackay.

– Helen 


07061701 Ellie 117 - Ellie Worldwide.jpg


Project: The Plastic Tide

Researcher: Ellie Mackay, Mission Director & Drone Pilot

Location: London, UK



What are your main research interests?

Plastic pollution, aerial imagery and image object recognition.


Who else is in your project team? What are their roles?

Peter Kohler, Co-Founder.


Tell us more about the data used in your project

The photographs come from aerial surveys of over 40 beaches in the UK and worldwide.


How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

They help us to train the algorithm to detect plastics automatically – this is a huge task which requires lots of photo tagging, so the volunteers help immensely with getting through all these images.


What have been the biggest challenges in setting up your project?

Financial backing/funding! We’ve had to self-fund to get the project off the ground and we’re now looking for sponsors to take the project to Phase 2.


What discoveries, and other outputs, has your project led to so far?

Extensive media coverage on multiple national and regional media channels as well as social media. Informed a secondary project on the psychological wellbeing of beach cleaning vs online volunteering.


Once you’ve finished collecting data, what research questions do you hope to be able to answer?

Where is the missing 99% of ocean plastic? Which beaches are most polluted and why? Which types of plastics wash up on different types of beaches? What are the most common types of plastic marine litter? How does plastic marine litter vary seasonally/after storms/over time/following innovations?


What’s in store for your project in the future?

Securing funding for:

  • Increasing the accuracy of the autonomous detection
  • Gathering more imagery from global contributors. -Accumulating further tagging by volunteers through Zooniverse
  • Creating greater public awareness through documentary, video and audio promotion
  • Generating engagement in citizen science through educational programmes and public engagement programmes
  • Creating an open source global map of plastic pollution.


What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

Everything on Zooniverse!


What guidance would you give to other researchers considering creating a citizen research project?

Definitely use Zooniverse if you can – it makes life a lot easier and gives you access to a whole network of dedicated and brilliant volunteers.


And finally, when not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

Travelling, diving, filming or photographing the great outdoors, Speaking at Adventure Uncovered, RGS or similar events, or at schools across the UK Promoting plastic-free living through my website and social media.



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