Nurdle Patrol Expands its Citizen Scientist Effort to Fight Plastic Pollution on Beaches

September 29, 2021 • by Staff Writer

Plastic pollution in marine environments has no border, and now neither does the Nurdle Patrol.

Jace Tunnell of the Nurdle Patrol on the beach crouches and picks up plastic pellets to add to a tube

The waters of the United States and Mexico are inextricably linked through currents of the Gulf of Mexico and with them flow marine debris. One source of marine debris of concern are plastic pellets, or nurdles. Now with new support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, the Nurdle Patrol citizen science program is expanding across the United States and into Mexico.

Nurdles are the raw material for plastic manufacturing and have been documented on beaches all around the Gulf of Mexico, with particularly high abundances observed along the Texas coast. The records of nurdles washing up were collected, in large part, by a citizen science effort called Nurdle Patrol, which was created by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and its Mission-Aransas Reserve. To date, a total of 1,614,956 nurdles have been counted and removed by Nurdle Patrollers.

The vast majority of the surveys were collected from the shores of the United States. By comparison, there is little data on the numbers of nurdles along the Mexico coastline. The expansion project into Mexico will help document plastic pellet pollution in rivers, bays and beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and help identify sources and target policy changes in both the United States and Mexico.

Cleanup efforts from nurdle spills are expensive and time-consuming, especially when the source of the spill is unknown. Expansion of the Nurdle Patrol network will lead to a greater likelihood of responsible parties being identified so that prevention and cleanup efforts can be targeted. The eventual goal of the project is to provide data to inform legislation on plastic pollution.

The University of Texas Marine Science Institute and its Mission-Aransas Reserve will work with the Universidad Veracruzana to create new partnerships across Mexico, host a plastic pollution symposium in Veracruz, Mexico, fill in data gaps along the Gulf of Mexico beaches and translate the website and app into Spanish. Nurdle Patrol Startup Kits and Teacher Nurdle Kits will also be translated to Spanish and sent out all over Mexico and the U.S. over the two-year project period. The ultimate goal is to provide information so that both Mexico and the U.S. can help to reduce the amount of nurdles entering the Gulf of Mexico.

This project is one of twenty-five projects from the NOAA Marine Debris Program that was awarded funding.

"These projects will improve habitats and other ecological resources, and help build a foundation of knowledge and resources to change behaviors, raise awareness and promote the long-term prevention of marine debris," according to a press release from the Marine Debris Program. "We're proud to support impactful, community-driven and cost-effective projects."