Creating Value from Waste

Creating Value from Waste

Adela Bonilla’s first demonstration using a press to transform waste into usable materials.

Since 2014, California’s Tijuana River Reserve has partnered with groups on both sides of the Mexico–United States border to remove approximately 80,000 pounds of debris from the Tijuana River Valley. With a grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program (MDP) and funding from the U.S–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) Implementation Act, they are turning  waste into valuable products through a circular economy process driven by communities—including Cañón de Alacrán, where thousands of refugees currently reside.

“This grant will allow us to work with communities to identify solutions to an environmental and human security issue by creating a circular economy using waste.” says Kristen Goodrich, coastal training program coordinator at the Reserve. “When upcycled, or repurposed, and sold, waste can transform from something that negatively impacts health and quality of life to something with value.”

Reducing debris not only reduces pollution, it also mitigates the flooding caused by blocked culverts and drainage systems. With 75% of the Tijuana River Watershed located in Mexico, working across the border has been critical to the Reserve’s ability to identify areas vulnerable to flooding, remove debris, and support binational emergency response guidance, other elements of the MDP/USMCA project.

The Reserve is working with engineering and business students in the U.S. and Mexico and in partnership with the University of San Diego’s Engineering Exchange for Social Justice and the non-profit Waste for Life to design products from waste. Waste management is a major challenge for the canyon communities adjacent to the Reserve.

The Reserve’s Coastal Training Program facilitated community workshops to help identify the community’s needs and goals. Together with local decision-makers, including community leaders, they explored questions about the sources and types of debris and identified communities with interest in getting involved. Ultimately, Alacrán was selected as a project site for its unique role in housing refugees in a community center. Alacrán’s waste services are extremely limited due to its terrain, and its primary sources of waste include food packaging. 

With pandemic border closures, work on the project slowed down, as in-person work was not always possible.“Virtual engagement proved challenging for doing work we intended to do like collecting waste, experimenting with the press, and making demo products,” Goodrich reflects. “But troubleshooting on an equipment issue—between a lab in the U.S. and a workshop in Mexico and across two languages— highlighted our team’s ability to adapt.”

Adela Bonilla, a long-time partner of the Reserve, community leader, and skilled maker, is back on track after equipment delays to pilot the project and experiment with the press and materials in her workshop. Bonilla will lead training for other community members so they can learn the process and start producing products, including in Alacrán. Students have already begun prototyping marketing for various potential products. In other efforts led by Waste for Life in Sri Lanka, presses have been used to make materials from waste for the hotel industry, including clipboards and folders, generating income for community members.

“The project is intended to be an unique model to be replicated in other sites with the similar challenges in waste management,” says Ana Eguiarte, binational liaison with the Tijuana River Reserve’s Coastal Training Program. “Implementing the circular economy on a community scale will have a positive impact on both the environment and the health of the people; moreover, it will empower economically vulnerable residents.” 

Project team setting up the press in Bonilla’s workshop, built by partner non-profit 4 Walls International with repurposed materials like glass bottles.

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Talk NERRdy to Me: Deborah Rudd

Talk NERRdy to Me: Deborah Rudd

Talk NERRdy to Me is a monthly column about leaders and luminaries from across our Reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov interviewed Deborah Rudd, public involvement coordinator at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve. South Slough was our first Reserve, so featuring them now is fitting given that we just welcomed our 30th. They talked about a “slough” of things—from the birth of the first Reserve and Indigenous collaboration to the best way to spoil volunteers and keep vandals from spoiling the view.

Nik: Hey there, Deborah Rudd, why was Oregon’s South Slough the first NERR?

Deborah: I think people in the community just showed that they really wanted a Reserve here. 

Nik: But, but… the Coastal Zone Management Act was passed in 1972 and just TWO years later, there’s a NERR. Holy moley! People must have been excited?

Deborah: There were a lot of motivated people, but not everybody in the community was excited at first. The Friends of South Slough wasn’t formed until the mid 80’s. Some hunting and fishing is still allowed, and we’re surrounded by logging companies. We all work together to figure out how to move forward. We’re not the big threat that some thought we were going to be! 

Nik: Has the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology always been there? Lovely to have them right up the road.

Deborah: They have been around since the 1920’s. Our former manager and a number of Reserve staff were students or taught there. We have a great partnership. Our lab is housed on their campus. It’s a great institution.

Nik: Say, how come you’re not a National Slough-erine Research Reserve? 

Deborah: Probably to give people a mouthful of more difficult words to say.

Nik: At least people on the West Coast know what sloughs are. When did you get there?

Deborah: I started at the end of 2005 as a temporary, part-time interpretive aid and the public involvement coordinator position happened to open. I’m still here. 

Nik: You came in through the education door.

Deborah: Yes, my job is twofold. The coordinating of volunteers and interns falls under education because I train them, but public outreach is education too. We’re currently revamping our management plan now and the question is always, “Where do we put public involvement exactly?” 

Nik: So you’re a generalist? A utility infielder?

Deborah: I tend to do better with those kinds of things. My background is in human services. I worked for a women’s shelter with senior and disabled services. It’s all very rewarding but it’s definitely the kind of work that, just because the end of the day comes, it doesn’t mean your job is done. 

The nice thing about the Reserve is we’re not dealing with people in crisis. Most people we see are there because they want to have fun.. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve had other customer service jobs. I co-managed a restaurant for a while, which is fast-paced but really tiring. 

Nik: I was in that industry for a while. It’s all pleasing people, keeping things moving and happy, dealing with Human Dimensions while balancing a tray of scalding food. Who wouldn’t like that?

Deborah: I’m naturally drawn to people. My father was that way. He was an Air Force veteran, then a regional trainer for a large company. A lot of my volunteer activities have been working with people and doing things for people, which is funny because I don’t consider myself an extrovert necessarily. More behind the scenes. I don’t really like being front and center stage. To be honest, I was a little nervous about this interview. 

Nik: Oh, this is a friendly crowd. All twelve readers of this are drawn to people too. Except for the RCs who are reading this; they’re here for the data. But people can be pains in the butt, too, right?

Deborah: They can be…

Nik: I love volunteers, all our Reserves run on volunteers, but…

Deborah: It’s a delicate balancing act and you definitely have to have a thick skin and be prepared to go the extra mile. Make sure you can communicate well and often. That’s key. 

Nik: Do you have volunteers that have been around with you for fifteen years? Or do they cycle through?

Deborah: They cycle through, although we’ve had ones that have served eight, ten years or more. They do a lot of different things—everything from docenting to helping with school programs and field research. I recently have just started trying to get more volunteers to help us take video and pictures, and add to our social media. 

Nik: More than half of the Reserve are in rural communities, small towns. After fifteen years, does everybody around South Slough know Deborah Rudd?

Deborah: That has become a thing. It seems like every event is the same group of people managing and doing things. A lot of our volunteers also volunteer for other organizations, but I try to embrace that and look at it like that gives them more talent. We even promote other volunteer opportunities or share our volunteers with other groups. I feel like that’s much better than trying to be in competition with everybody.

Nik: Yet you still have to create a core of volunteers that want to keep coming back. How do you do that? How do you spoil your volunteers?

Deborah: The first thing is the Reserve itself. It naturally draws people who want to protect the place. That’s something we’ve tapped into, especially with our newest program: trail stewards. We say, “Hey you can be involved: all you have to do is keep walking the trails, report when you see a tree down or something amiss.” They can do something as little as that, and then it can grow. 

We try to reward our volunteers by keeping them involved with certain decisions and updating them if their work is accomplishing something. I would like to be able to do more. It would be great to take them all to a fancy dinner!

Nik: Public relations hat time: How many visitors per year, how many miles of trails, how many programs are you running? Give us some South Slough stats!

Deborah: During non-Covid times, about 10,000 visitors a year. We can’t really count our trail hikers because we don’t have a way to measure that yet. We have five miles of trails total right now. We have a circular, two-mile loop on our south end that’s much more isolated and a 3.5-mile trail up near the Reserve visitor center. The stewards tend to hike those for us and keep an eye on them. The trails at the visitor center are a lot more glamorous, there’s restrooms, kiosks, signs, etc.

Nik: What’s the most gratifying part of your job?

Deborah: I’m just amazed that people are so eager, that they want to help so much. Some of this work is physically challenging and yet they have smiles on their faces. It might be pouring rain, they’re out there pulling ivy or helping to reroute water on a trail, they’re covered in mud, and they’re just smiling and happy to be doing it. You couldn’t pay some people to do that kind of work. 

Nik: In the last couple of years, **for some reason** people have rediscovered the outdoors, and we’ve all seen more public pressure at the Reserves. Same for South Slough?

Deborah: We never really had this issue before, but we were one of the few places people could come when the shutdowns came. We were getting inundated with cars and people were leaving garbage everywhere. We did a TV announcement and some social media, we put up some signs, and we worked to get the bathrooms open. That minimized some of it, but the rural road we’re on has had some vandalization. People come and shoot the signs and that’s increased recently with the pandemic.

Nik: How has social media changed how you engage the public?

Deborah: When I first started, a lot of my work was heavy on volunteer and intern coordination. Outreach consisted of putting together a paper newsletter, folding all 3,000 of them, and mailing them off. Getting word out about things is faster now; it’s taken some time for me to catch up. Our state partner hired a young person straight out of college, who I collaborate with quite a bit now. If you don’t set a schedule and a timeframe, you feel like you constantly have to post things. It could just never end.

Nik: In small communities, Facebook becomes the local town gossip, right? 

Deborah: I actually have notifications that come to my phone so I can keep track of all of that, just in case.

Nik: Uh-oh.

Deborah: For the most part, the engagements have been really positive. … We have had people ask weird questions. 

Nik: … ?

Deborah: When we present something about a research project or program, people always want to know if you can eat it!

Nik: I guess that’s … engagement?

Deborah: Sure! Even if it’s a visitor from somewhere else who might never come back, I hope they feel some ownership once they’ve been here. Oftentimes we’ll say “it’s your estuary” because we’re part of the State of Oregon, we’re on public lands, and we’re technically their employees. For the most part, the locals do feel that way. 

Nik: I know in the Pacific Northwest in particular, there’s a really long history of Indigenous settlement and use. In Oregon’s Bay Area, sloughs have been harvesting and gathering places for millennia. Is there a local Native population that you all work with?

Deborah: Historically, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians were heavily represented on the Reserve. The local Coquille Indian and the Siletz Tribes as well. We try to collaborate with them whenever we do anything with the land. They’re part of our management commission and advisory boards; we ask them to do education—we’ve had classes about native plants and medicinal uses of plants the public really seemed to enjoy. 

I feel like we have a good relationship, though it can always be better, it can always grow. We’re remodeling our exhibits and we’re hoping to continue to add things the tribes would like to see. They recently donated a piece of an old Native canoe and we have that under glass. The South Slough Reserve belongs to them, it’s their place. There are places on the Reserve where we know not to go because they’re sacred to them. 

Nik: What’s your sacred spot at the Reserve?

Deborah: It’s a wooden deck overlooking our hidden creek marsh, which is also one of our sentinel sites. It’s a great spot to talk about biodiversity. When we kayak, we go past there and I always look for that spot. We have a bench that’s dedicated to one of our former staff who passed away, which makes it more special. Sometimes in the summer certain marsh grasses have a peppery smell, so it even smells nice when you walk there. 

Nik: What’s next for South Slough? It’s the Golden Age for federal conservation funding, I hear. Any plans in your corner of the world?

Deborah: Being the first Reserve, there weren’t accessibility guidelines and so all these years, our doors and bathrooms have not been accessible. Through a new NERRS PAC grant, we’re going to upgrade our exhibits to make them more accessible and reach more audiences in a more diverse and modern way. We’re going to upgrade to touch screens, make things more hands-on and at different levels. We have a DEIJ committee and are trying to make sure we’re reaching different audiences that we probably were not reaching before. If the space is truly for everyone, then we need to do our best to reach everybody.

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DC Download: January 2022

DC Download: January 2022

The NERRS is time-tested, mission ready, and growing. In support of that, NERRA has put forward a $42.5M NERRS operations budget request for FY 2023.

Although we are waiting for Congress to pass the FY 2022 budget, our FY 2023 request is consistent with what the administration believes the NERRS need to grow and meet the demands placed on coastal communities and the nation in the face of climate change. This budget increase will support our newest Reserve in Connecticut and ensure the rest of our System is kept whole and funded at increased levels that match local and national needs.

As Congress works on two budgets simultaneously, it is important that we all work with our friends and partners around the country to ask that the growth of the NERRS budget matches the growth of our System and its programs. Look for tips and tools on how we can do that collectively in mid-February. 

And in the meantime, plan to join us between February 11th and 14th on social media for I Heart Estuaries! Let decision makers know how much love there is for estuaries and programs like the NERRS… #iheartestuaries!

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Going for Green in Wisconsin

Going for Green in Wisconsin

Barker’s Island has undergone many transformations since Captain Charles S. Barker dumped vengeance sand in front of the lakeside home of his political frenemy, the mayor of Superior. Flash forward 140 years, and what began as a landmass of resentment has become a popular recreation spot and home to the Lake Superior Reserve’s offices and its Estuarium

In recent years, however, flooding and water quality problems have raised big concerns about the island’s sustainability. This prompted the Lake Superior Reserve to help write a new chapter in the Barker’s Island story—one in which green infrastructure plays a starring role.

“Green infrastructure creates welcoming spaces that people can enjoy and use to connect with the natural environment,” observes Karina Heim, the Reserve’s coastal training coordinator. “Our Reserve, like others, supports work that strengthens the estuary and the people who surround it. Promoting the science and the practice of green infrastructure in our local communities is one way we do that.”

In recent years, Barker’s Island has become a hub for green infrastructure demonstration sites. On Barker’s Beach, for example, pervious pavement parking spaces and raised boardwalks have helped improve the visitor experience. And as monitoring by the Reserve and others has begun to show, it is likely these installations also are contributing to improvements in water quality in receiving waters.

“The Island is our Reserve’s home,” says Heim, “and it’s fantastic to see and help steward the green infrastructure renaissance that is happening right now in this small footprint, high traffic area next to the water.”

To shine a spotlight on these improvements for local communities, the Reserve partnered with the City of Superior and others to host a green infrastructure walking tour for local decision makers last fall. Each stop featured a different improvement, hosted by an expert who could explain the design and its benefits with regard to water quality improvement and flood reduction.

“Barkers Island is one of Superior’s highly valued and highly visited access points to the estuary,” says Heim. “As the mayor expressed when he opened our walking tour, green infrastructure provides the community with benefits that go far beyond water management; we look forward to continuing to work with the City and the community to promote those benefits in 2022.”

First stop at Barker’s Beach. Matt Steiger, St. Louis River area of concern coordinator with Wisconsin DNR, explains how porous concrete under the picnic tables allows water to soak into the ground instead of running directly into the estuary, carrying pollution into the water.

Above: Impervious parking spaces prevented water from draining naturally and directed storm water to the beach. Below: Pervious parking spaces allow water to drain into filtering swales.

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Welcome Connecticut!

Welcome Connecticut!

A big welcome to the newest member of our national network—the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve!

After decades of effort by many organizations and volunteers, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) officially designated the Reserve today. It protects 52,160 acres in the southeastern part of the state, where the Connecticut and Thames rivers flow into Long Island Sound.

“A Connecticut Reserve makes congressional investment in our national System more powerful, while serving the needs of Connecticut communities,” says Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “It enhances our ability to deliver the essential science, education, and technical assistance to support coastal industries and help protect people and infrastructure from sea level rise and flooding.”

Prior to this designation, Connecticut was one of only two ocean-bordering states lacking a Reserve. (Louisiana, where plans are underway to designate a site, is the other.) The Reserve protects an area with the region’s highest diversity of fish, including Atlantic salmon, and the endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. It also encompasses areas recognized as ‘wetlands of international importance’ by the Ramsar Convention and opportunities for public access at several preserves and state parks.

The Reserve will be managed as a partnership between NOAA and the State of Connecticut. Its research and monitoring programs will support the state’s communities in understanding and adapting to warming waters and sea level rise, which threaten habitats that promote climate resilience and support commercial fish and other wildlife. Like other Reserves, it will serve as a living laboratory where scientists and stakeholders collaborate to develop nature-based solutions to understand, restore, and conserve these natural areas so they can benefit all members of local communities for generations.

The area surrounding the Reserve includes North America’s oldest Indian Reservation, the Mashantucket Pequot, as well as ethnically diverse cities like New London.

“This Reserve was designated through a process that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Roth. “Like every other Reserve, the Connecticut team will rely on these principles to ensure its programs receive insights from all community members and provide opportunities for everyone to participate, particularly underserved groups and those who have faced environmental injustice.” 

A public event to mark the Reserve’s designation is planned for this spring. Additional details will be posted on the research Reserve website at noaa.gov.

National Estuarine Research Reserve System—now serving communities across 24 coastal states and Puerto Rico. 

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Recipe Challenge: Salish Salmon

Recipe Challenge: Salish Salmon

We asked for your best estuary-sourced recipes, and Dennis Parent—retired commercial fisherman and volunteer with the Padilla Bay Foundation—delivered. His recipe for grilled Chinook salmon had our mouths watering and our spirits thinking about a trip to the wide wonderful waters of Washington State.

The Chinook (King) Salmon is native to Skagit River. On their way through the estuary as they head to the sea, young salmon use the vast eelgrass meadows of Padilla Bay as a refuge from predators and to fill their bellies before heading out to the deeper waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Across the Salish Sea, eelgrass meadows serve as an important juvenile salmon nursery and are an important estuarine habitat for the health and recovery of Pacific Northwest salmonids.

Purple shore crab and numerous Japanese mud snails amidst the eelgrass of Padilla Bay at low tide.

Dennis’ recipe is a hybrid, influenced by original coastal peoples, ethnic cannery workers, and a long tradition of commercial fishers from Puget Sound and Alaska. This recipe is best with wild Pacific salmon—preferably a fresh fillet of Chinook—as the unique flavor comes from the rich North Pacific ocean. But do your best with whatever sustainable salmon you can get your mitts on.

Ingredients

  • 1 Fillet or portion of fresh wild Chinook salmon, about 1 inch thick

Marinade

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp red cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cedar plank, about 1/4 inch thick and large enough to hold the fish

Approach:

  1. Place fish in a close fitting container with sides.
  2. Pour enough marinade to soak fish, skin up for one hour, just prior to grilling. Move the fish as needed to ensure an even soak.
  3. Simultaneously, immerse the plank in fresh water for one hour.
  4. Preheat the grill to 400 degrees on high, then turn to medium heat. Keep the grill closed as much as possible from now on, and keep the temperature at 375-400F.
  5. Coat grill with BBQ spray.
  6. Place cedar plank on one half of the grill—the plank will infuse a smoky cedar finish. 
  7. Grill salmon face down on the rest of the grill for one minute.
  8. Carefully rotate salmon 90 degrees and grill facedown for one additional minute, to achieve grill marks.
  9. Gently flip salmon skin side down onto cedar plank and center on the grill. The plank should be slightly charring and smoking by now in the closed grill.
  10. Drizzle salmon with 1/3 of retained used marinade, and close lid. Cook for 5 minutes.
  11. Open grill and drizzle salmon again with retained marinade as before. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  12. Check center for doneness. Do not overcook—salmon will continue to cook for a bit after removal from the grill. The salmon should have grill marks and a shiny glazed finish, while the inside retains its moisture and flakes nicely.
  13. Serve with rice and enjoy with people you adore. It’s simply the best.

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