Citizen science an effective tool in reducing marine debris
Dr Graeme Clark from UNSW’s Evolution and Ecology Research Centre has been exploring the effectiveness of marine debris source reduction programs driven by citizen science, revealing some positive results.
Dr Clark’s research looked at two source reduction programs for plastic marine debris, each occurring over large scales of iconic Australian coast. Both programs were driven by a citizen science organisation, the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, through the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI), with one targeting meteorological weathers balloons in the Great Barrier Reef, and the other targeting packing straps discarded by commercial fishers in southern Western Australia.
In both cases, the AMDI identified the pollution issue through citizen-collected data, consulted with responsible parties to instigate source reduction programs, and monitored subsequent change in debris loads over time.
Positive results occurred within months of implementing each source reduction implementation program, with weather balloon debris declining by 79% in the year following the implementation of source reduction, and packing tape debris declining by 55%. Both programs demonstrated major debris reductions after three years of over 90%.
Dr Clark suggests that the differences in the rates of debris reduction between programs may be due to the number of independent sources and/or the load of legacy debris already in the system.
“Weather balloons were released primarily by a single organisation, so source reduction was therefore more absolute than for packing straps that were released by numerous industry operators,” says Dr Clark.
This study demonstrates that source reduction programs on marine debris pollution can have rapid impact over large scales, and illustrates the opportunity for citizen science to play a key role in identifying environmental impacts and affecting change.
Dr Clark is also collaborating with Associate Professor Tomasz Bednarz from EPICENTRE (Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre, part of UNSW Faculty of Arts and Design) to develop an interactive visualisation of the Australian Marine Debris Database. This will allow researchers to explore debris patterns in an immersive 360 degree environment, gaining insights and communicating results with cutting-edge technology.