Guest blog post by Science Education Intern Michelle DesLauriers
When talking about sustainability on an island in Maine, it’s hard not to think about the greater context of our surrounding ocean. Before coming to Hurricane Island, I knew much about the pervasiveness of marine debris and the challenges our ocean faces; however, this summer was my first time living in a coastal area and experiencing first-hand the amount of debris that washes up on our granite shores with each incoming tide. Seeing so much trash accumulate on a small island that is inhabited by so few people provided a much more concrete perspective for me to view this issue through. Non-biodegradable debris from ropes, plastic bottles, or even synthetic microfibers are hazardous to marine life as well as the humans and animals who eat those organisms.
Inspired by the very issues plaguing our oceans today, the Rozalia Project was born, whose mission is to support a clean, protected, and thriving ocean. Among other work, they run restoration and cleaning expeditions aboard their green sailing vessel, American Promise. The Rozalia Project’s visit to Hurricane Island was well-timed with our High School Sustainability program this summer, and their crew spent a full day teaching, learning and playing with us as a part of their Expedition STEM for the Ocean (click here for a short video!).
We spent the morning discussing what marine debris is, and why it’s something we should be concerned about. It’s a problem that stems from so many angles, starting with the systems we have on land as well as our practices in the ocean, and the Rozalia Project recognizes the solutions likewise need multi-angled approaches. One of the first steps is prevention through education, which can enable people to understand the extent of the issue and inspire individuals to take action.
Indeed, rather than leaving our discussion on a note of doom and gloom, we were inspired to get our hands dirty and take action. Recognizing remediation as another part of the solution, the Rozalia Project crew leads beach (and seafloor) cleanups, and encourages individuals to organize their own within their community. They take cleanup one-step further by recording the types and quantities of debris collected in a cleanup. Data collected during a cleanup can be analyzed to better understand the problem and inform solutions and policies on local and global scales.
Using this service model, our group went across the bay with the Rozalia Project crew to clean up a small, privately-owned section of beach on Greens Island. We had no idea what to expect when we began our cleanup, especially since this location is fairly remote and doesn’t receive the traffic of a typical beach. Any hesitation within our group quickly dissipated as we all began a treasure hunt to see how much debris we could collect in the 0.2-mile area before our time ran out. Within a matter of 40 minutes, the amount of trash our team of students and crew members had collected was astounding. We brought ten contractor bags of smelly trash back over to Hurricane Island, where students sorted through the contents to collect some data about our cleanup.
In all, it took twenty people twenty minutes to collect 1,664 pieces of trash from a 0.0013 km2 area of beach on Greens Island. The top five most prevalent types of marine debris we collected were monofilament fibers (>30mm), rope, foam cups/plates, small plastic (5-30 mm), and buoys/floats. Using this data to guide them, students began brainstorming innovative solutions that would prevent these items from polluting our oceans. They worked on developing pitches for their ideas to identify the problem and why it matters. They then had to come up with a solution as to how it works, and what they would need to make it happen. In the evening, they pitched their ideas to the island staff and Rozalia crew.
All of the students came up with realistic and achievable solutions to pitch, whether it was a shift in policy that limited the lifetime of synthetic ropes, changing rope material to a natural fiber like hemp, redesigning buoys and balloons, or creating a device to collect trash in the water. Rachel developed a floating trash collector made out of natural, biodegradable materials. Tiger came up with a simple storm drain design to prevent trash from washing out of the scuppers on boats, and printed a 3D model of his design to show to the audience.
Seeing so many young leaders develop solutions and pitch their ideas to the staff was exciting and impressive. Our day spent with Rozalia was eye-opening for everyone as we explored Marine Debris from several angles. We ended the day feeling empowered and inspired, realizing that normal people can, and need to, lead the charge on fighting these global problems.