Plastic pellet pollution on florida’s space coast – a citizen science approach

, Sluka Robert, Paterson Ann, Mcmann Stephen, Ederer Brittany, Hickman Caleb, Johnson Paige, Mclemore Kyrsten.

Plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, are primary microplastics forming the basis of the plastic production economy. Nurdles are lost to the environment through the transport and manufacturing process ending in the sea and ultimately on beaches globally. Little is known about the sources and sinks of plastic pellets in Florida. Research was conducted to understand the spatial and temporal distribution of plastic pellet pollution on Space Coast beaches using standardized “nurdle hunts.” This is a simple method developed for implementation by citizen scientists, but which can also be used by experienced scientists to study spatial and temporal trends. Standardized 15-minute hunts were conducted primarily along Cape Canaveral National Seashore and south of Cape Canaveral for comparison in more developed regions of Brevard County. Citizen scientists ranged from elementary, middle and high school students to adults with little to extensive research experience. Temporal trends indicated the importance of storm events in bringing nurdles to shore. Spatial trends indicated similar numbers of nurdles found north and south of Cape Canaveral, with comparison to other areas of Florida also indicating ecologically similar abundance. Education was an important component of this study and this tool was useful for engaging students and the general public. All results are contributed to The Great Nurdle Hunt database which maps the results of nurdle hunts globally, allowing the research to contribute to wider use by the international research community. Future research will continue to expand work throughout Florida and identify land-based sources of plastic pellet pollution.

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