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Connecticut Sea Grant Enables Myalia Durno ’24 to Expand Research Along Connecticut Coast

June 05, 2023
Myalia Durno ’24
Myalia Durno ’24

Myalia Durno ’24 cannot neglect her passion for the environment. The psychology major with minors in environmental studies and mathematics was awarded the well-respected Connecticut Sea Grant. The grant will support Myalia's research about Connecticut restaurants’ use of single-use plastics. “I have a fire within me to advocate for meaningful change and want to use my understanding of thoughts and behaviors to rally support for important issues like this,” she says.

“This project is incredibly important because it gets to the bottom of the issue of why we aren't stopping the use of plastics and what is preventing us from being able to use alternatives,” says Myalia. “It also hints at what can be done to ease the process of switching to alternatives and how much restaurant owners actually know about the plastics problem.”

Myalia will reach out to 80 to 100 restaurants along the Connecticut coast this summer. She has already interviewed 60 restaurant owners in Hartford, Middletown, and Glastonbury. So far, she’s discovered it’s challenging for them to find non-plastic or non-single use alternatives that are affordable. Additionally, they face the barrier of keeping food hot or cold, the limited selection of alternative products, and having faith the community will recycle or return a used plastic container. This doesn’t deter Myalia at all, she remains hopeful and dedicated to the cause.

“As a faculty member, I’m so impressed with Myalia’s drive to deeply investigate the complex problem of plastic pollution,” says her mentor and advisor, Professor Katharine Owens of UHart’s Department of Politics, Economics, and International Studies. It was Owens’s study of plastic pollution in oceans around the world that inspired Myalia to take on the research and apply for the grant that funds projects to support healthy coastal and marine ecosystems.

Myalia says of Professor Owens, “She was one of the only people involved in political advocacy for the environment that considered social justice inseparable from the climate and plastics problem, as they are one in the same.”

Owens is a National Geographic Explorer and received a Fulbright Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Award in 2019 to teach and research marine plastic pollution at the University of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram, India. She also received a UHart faculty development grant this year to further her ongoing project, Entangled and Ingested, which produces life-sized portraits of animals harmed by plastic pollution by sewing unrecyclable film plastic onto canvas.

Next year Myalia is planning to apply to graduate school to study for a master’s degree in psychology and says she may do more research in plastics in the environment. “It is sort of a permanent issue, much like the material itself, it will not dissipate naturally,” she says and shares that one-day she hopes to be working a non-profit environmental organization.

I have a fire within me to advocate for meaningful change and want to use my understanding of thoughts and behaviors to rally support for important issues like this.

Myalia Durno ’24, College of Arts and Sciences