Some of you may have heard of the Blue Marble for the Oceans campaign (if can I call it a campaign). Check it out here: http://www.bluemarbles.org/.
Basically, folks are passing blue marbles around the globe to other folks who are doing good things for the oceans. You can upload stories on the website as well as participate in other high-tech efforts (YouTube, Twitter, etc.) to get the word out. I’d rather just tell a story.
About a year and a half ago, we made the decision that it was no longer acceptable to say “Scientifically speaking, I don’t know,” when people asked us, “How much marine debris is out there?” There are a lot of guesses to this question that get reported as facts. We didn’t want to add to misinformation.
Enter: our decision to develop some marine debris monitoring and assessment protocols. Sounds fancy. It isn’t. We want a relatively simple (but statistically rigorous) method to answer the “how much” question for beaches and coastal waters in the US. We are scientists, after all. Plus, if we know the variability of debris, that will tell us how often to assess a beach.
Some people think “how much” doesn’t matter. Quite rightly, the bigger question addresses impacts. How does marine debris impact coastal areas, resources, people, critters… the whole shebang?
And honestly, marine debris doesn’t belong in the coastal environment. But there is value in knowing how much is out there. Knowing how much and what type of debris is in the environment helps us address how terrestrial litter becomes marine debris and how marine litter contributes to the problem. That leads to better understanding of what it impacts along its journey, which leads to better prevention mechanisms and public outreach… Basically, we’re starting at the beginning.
Ok – So what about this blue marble?
Well, the NOAA Marine Debris Program was invited to hang out with an awesome group of citizen scientists last weekend and talk trash. 😉 I made the trip to Port Townsend, WA to participate in the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s (PTMSC) Plastics Summit and to discuss the protocols NOAA has been developing. The weekend was fantastic, and I was seriously impressed with the drive, dedication, and smart thinking of this group. They know their stuff, and are really on the forefront of this subject!
At the end of the weekend, a kind citizen scientist thanked me for my presentation and presence at the meeting, and passed me a blue marble. How exciting! So I received three very unexpected (and much appreciated!) presents: b-e-a-utiful weather, homemade plum jam, and a blue marble!
So that’s the story. We’re starting to see returns on a decision to get quantitative about how much marine debris is in the environment… the blue marble was a great gesture, but even better was the ability to see what the PTMSC is doing and to start brainstorming ways to work with groups like this in the future.
Now I just need to decide where this little marble goes next. 🙂
PS – If any other citizen science group is collecting and studying microplastics (or other debris items), we would LOVE to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.