By: Dianna Parker
On a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon in September, Hector the Collector swims to the bottom of Hampton River in Virginia and looks for trash. Visibility is terrible because of the sediment and plankton kicking up, but he knows it’s down there, as it was in every other harbor he’s searched. Giving up, he heads back to the dock, but awestruck kids will still crowd around him later to learn about his trash dives.
Hector the Collector is yellow, weighs about 15 pounds, and has a gripper claw, a camera, and headlights. He’s a remotely operated vehicle, made by VideoRay, that’s a centerpiece of the Rozalia Project’s marine debris education and outreach initiative, in partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program (NOAA MDP).
“Rozalia Project is thrilled to be working with the NOAA MDP to combine resources to both cleanup and inspire people, of all ages, to be part of the solution to marine debris. We appreciate that NOAA’s Marine Debris Program shares our optimism that every efforts counts and that we all can make a difference!”
The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean has been around for four years under the leadership of Rachael Miller, an enthusiastic educator, scientist, and sailor. Its mission is to find and remove marine debris, from the surface to the sea floor, through action, technology, outreach and research. Pick it up, don’t point at it, is the motto, and the Rozalia staff has gotten amazing results through those cleanups.
The Rozalia – NOAA MDP project, which kicked off in August, combines education with action. Rachael, with a group of dedicated staff, interns, and volunteers in tow, moves from town to town, setting up dockside programs that often attract dozens and often hundreds of people of all ages. In the summers, they work off American Promise, a 60’ vessel once used by Dodge Morgan for a world-record breaking, nonstop solo trip around the world.
Education is a cornerstone of Rozalia’s activities, and the staff goes to great lengths to engage their audience with STEM principles. Kids looking at a live feed from Hector’s camera go slack-jawed when they see the layers of plastic cups, beer cans, and other random trash on the bottom of their local waters. At the same time, they’re learning about data collection, math, and basic marine science. They make fun public service announcements. They weigh in on where the trash comes from, how long it takes to break down, and how they can be part of a solution. Hector even has sonar imaging that lets them “see” debris, even when the water is murky.
Rozalia staffers, who typically work in the Northeast, will go bi-coastal, taking the program to the West Coast this fall. They anticipate reaching about 10,000 people with dockside programs alone this year. Next spring and summer, they will get back on American Promise and resume education programs and science experiments on the East Coast, primarily in the Gulf of Maine.
For those who can’t make it out, Rozalia has a “Virtual Crew” program that allows members to read Mission Reports full of educational, quirky science, commentary, and challenges, help pilot the ROV through web chats, watch videos, and email with American Promise’s crew. Rachael wants 25,000 virtual crew members before the year is out.
Rozalia is a cleanup organization that works to offer science and education through those cleanups. If Hector isn’t collecting, then the staff is out with dip nets skimming the water’s surface. They also organize shoreline cleanups; eight volunteers for the latest effort in Frenchboro, Maine picked up 2,450 pieces in two days. The goal: to clean up 500,000 pieces of debris this year.
The NOAA MDP is excited to partner with Rozalia on this nationwide effort to educate people on marine debris and how their choices impact the marine environment. The intersection between science, education, and action is so important to the MDP and our work, and Rachael and her Rozalia team are already there. We hope to see you there, too!