By: Caitlin Wessel, Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
Mardi Gras is a fun occasion for many cities across the South, from New Orleans to Alabama. Bead necklaces and other items like moon pies, cups, and cheap toys are a Mardi Gras staple and are thrown to excited crowds lining the streets during parades that begin six weeks before Fat Tuesday. Unfortunately, many of these items are abandoned on the street and can easily wash down street drains and end up in streams, rivers, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
This past winter, in an effort to decrease nuisance flooding in downtown New Orleans, the city removed 46 TONS of Mardi Gras beads that were backing up the city’s storm water drainage system. Mobile Baykeeper, with a grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, recently worked with partners in the city of Mobile, Alabama, to install custom-built screens in rainwater gutters across the city. “We often see a lot of the same materials like shopping carts, car tires, toy cars, Styrofoam containers, TVs, mops, buckets … but we’ve actually seen a lot of Mardi Gras throws including toy footballs, beads, cups, frisbees, you name it,” said Baykeeper Communications Director Hanlon Walsh. “There’s an obvious tie-in between Mardi Gras and litter, so I think the big thing is to make people more aware of it.”
With the help of these screens and other preventative measures, regular cleanups, and increased awareness, Mobile Baykeeper hopes to reduce the environmental impacts of Mardi Gras while keeping the Mardi Gras spirit alive and well!