If that much plastic is floating out in the Pacific Ocean, how much is here in our local marine waters and on our beaches?With the help of Marcus Eriksen* of Algalita Marine Research Foundation, PTMSC conducted some exploratory beach sampling trials at home in rural Jefferson County and in urbanized King County. Our trials focused on sampling sandy beaches for small bits of plastic called microplastic, a size that beach clean up efforts generally miss and a size that commonly enters the food web through ingestion by birds and fish. (*Marcus Eriksen is now with 5 Gyres Institute.)
We secured funding to conduct a three-year study that we hoped would provide a baseline estimate of how much microplastic was on WA Salish Sea beaches. (Thanks to our major funders: WA DOE’s PPG Program and Foss Maritime.) In Year 1 we recruited and trained volunteer groups in 7 counties. In Year 2 we expanded to include volunteer groups and partnering institutions in all 12 Washington Salish Sea counties.
After the project ended, PTMSC received repeated queries about starting up again. It was a very popular citizen science project. Public awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean had grown so much by 2011 that people wanted to be part of a solution.
I met Wally Davis, a retired biologist/statistician from Snohomish County who was conducting his own research on plastics in surface water. We conversed about our research and stayed in touch. It was Davis’s idea to jointly write an article on the two studies. He pointed out that they overlapped in time and space and provided complimentary views of plastics in the environment. And, Davis loved crunching data. Murphy readily agreed. The PTMSC is eternally grateful to Davis for stepping in and running with this joint project.
It is important to note that a project of this regional scale could not have happened without partners in the 12 counties where sampling occurred. Each partner group helped PTMSC recruit and train volunteer citizen scientists. Many volunteers stuck with the project from start to finish while others joined or left at various points in the project. We conservatively estimate that over 600 citizen scientists contributed over 4313 hours to acquire our data. PTMSC again thanks our partners in this project and is pleased to share our article with them. We simply could not have done this work without their assistance.
ANNE MURPHY is the retired executive director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and co-author of the article, “Plastic in surface waters of the Inside Passage and beaches of the Salish Sea in Washington State.” The article, as published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, is accessible for free until September 30, 2015. After that time, you may contact the Port Townsend Marine Science Center for access to the paper.
Live link until September 30, 2015: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X15003860