Guest blog by: Tracy Weatherall, Nurdle Patrol Assistant, Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Sally Palmer, Communications Coordinator, University of Texas Marine Science Institute
Small plastic pellets, or nurdles, are the raw material for almost everything made of plastic. Unfortunately, before they make it to plastic production, they can be released into the environment where they pollute habitats and harm wildlife. These tiny plastic pellets can look like food to animals and be eaten by mistake. Too many of these pellets can clog the digestive tracts of animals, impacting their health and, in severe cases, cause death. They can also be a source of toxins that are harmful to animals.
Nurdle Patrol is a citizen science project run by the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas. Data collected through Nurdle Patrol surveys is used to inform regulatory agencies on pellet quantities and locations and create awareness of the issue. The project also helps remove the plastic pellets from shorelines where they are at risk of being eaten by wildlife. As of May 31, 2022, over 6,500 volunteers have conducted over 14,000 surveys at over 6,000 sites across twenty countries around the world. Volunteers search for nurdles for 10 minutes, then add a location and the number found into the NurdlePatrol.org reporting database. The surveys are easy, fun, and they are making a difference!
Nurdle Patrol received a huge boost in September 2021 with the announcement of expanding efforts throughout Mexico, thanks to a grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute received funding to work with the Universidad Veracruzana to create new partnerships across Mexico, host the September 2022 Plastic Pollution Symposium in Veracruz, Mexico, fill in data gaps along the Gulf of Mexico beaches, and translate the NurdlePatrol.org website and app into Spanish.
In addition to recruiting citizen scientists, the project is partnering with organizations and schools to make an impact. The Nurdle Patrol Starter Kit was created for organizations to start their own citizen science project or incorporate nurdle surveys into their existing monitoring programs. The kits were designed to supply resources needed to conduct surveys, talk to their volunteers about nurdles, and provide a foundation for a successful project. Nurdle Patrol also developed Teacher Kits to teach students about plastic pollution. These kits include a curriculum about plastic pellets entering the ocean, the negative impacts, and solutions. Through this project, these kits will be translated into Spanish and shared throughout Mexico, expanding the reach of the 185 starter kits and over 1,100 teacher kits that have already been shared with partners and educators worldwide.
Thanks to our funding partners at the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, NOAA Marine Debris Program, Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, 11th Hour Racing, and Texans for Clean Water for supporting these efforts. Nurdle Patrol partner organizations and citizen scientists are the keys to the project’s success over the past three years!