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Nurdle Patrol is Growing

Jan 24, 2023

Coordinators from Mississippi County Soil and Water Conservation Districts train up to bring Nurdle Patrol to local schools.

When Wyvette Robinson heard about the Mission-Aransas Reserve’s Nurdle Patrol on Facebook, she was intrigued. Not only is plastic pollution a big deal for her organization, any opportunity to share new education tools and resources with Mississippi teachers and students gets her “pumped.”

“Supporting education is not just part of my job, it’s my favorite,” says Robinson, district coordinator at the Hinds County Soil and Water Conservation District in Jackson. “I love meeting with teachers and students. When I saw the Facebook post, I got to thinking that other conservation district coordinators would be interested, too.”

Turns out she was right. Approximately 35 of her fellow coordinators have asked for and received 70 nurdle education kits, designed to help students learn about the environmental impacts of these lentil-sized plastics used in plastic manufacturing and generate solutions for addressing them. This year, Robinson expects the kits to reach approximately 50 teachers and 5,000 students in multiple grades across coastal Mississippi.

Mississippi is just the latest state to join Nurdle Patrol—an open-source, volunteer monitoring program that was born when hundreds of thousands of nurdles started washing up on the shores of the Texas coast in 2018. With support from concerned residents and partners, the Mission-Aransas Reserve–designed the Patrol so anyone in the world could use these methods to track nurdle pollution. That pilot effort contributed to an unprecedented $50 million settlement of a Clean Water Act lawsuit, a portion of which is supporting the Patrol’s education and outreach efforts. Today, Nurdle Patrol has expanded throughout the coastal United States and into 22 countries, with more than 15,000 surveys performed by more than 7,000 volunteers.

Programs like Nurdle Patrol provide another outdoor learning opportunity for Mississippi students interested in science and the estuary in their backyard.

 What makes Nurdle Patrol so successful is that whoever wants to lead a local program can do it,” says Jace Tunnell, director of the Mission-Aransas Reserve and president of NERRA. “They can just download a partner or education kit, start their own chapter, and take it in a direction that makes sense locally.”

Robinson “can’t wait to see where Nurdle Patrol goes” in Mississippi and anticipates it will “really take off” as more teachers learn about this opportunity to do science in their backyard. In Texas, the local chapters are working to change state policies regulating nurdle discharges, and Tunnell would like to see this use of the data spread to other states.

“The only way to change policy is to collect the data and take it to the state agency regulating plastics companies to see if changes can be made,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about better management so nurdles don’t get out into the environment.”

As the Nurdle Patrol grows, Reserve work on plastic pollution and other marine debris is also expanding. In the last ten years, more than a half a million pounds of debris was removed from the Tijuana Reserve with the help of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and over 20,000 volunteers. Other Reserves are informing state action plans and developing interpretive exhibits in visitor centers to studying impacts on organisms. 

“This work is a natural fit for Reserves and the communities we work to support,” says Kristen Goodrich, Coastal Training Program coordinator for California’s Tijuana River Reserve, NERRA vice president, and co-lead of a project to better understand the NERRS niche in addressing plastic pollution and aquatic-bound debris nationally. 

“Being out in the places we care about and seeing them inundated with trash can be heartbreaking. Removing it—and moreover, preventing it—is a tangible way for all of us to make a connection between personal and collective behaviors and decisions and turn the tide.”

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ReservesMission-Aransas, TexasNurdle Patrol is Growing