Combating Land-Based Marine Debris from the Rio Grande Valley

A graduate student with UTRGV's Coastal Studies Lab presents a marine debris display.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered on an innovative education and outreach program to prevent marine debris from entering the South Texas coastal zone and the Gulf of Mexico.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant

Region: Gulf of Mexico

Project Dates: August 2015 - July 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) implemented a marine debris prevention program to reach over 13,500 K-12th grade students and thousands more residents and visitors of the Rio Grande Valley.

What is the project and why is it important?
The South Texas coastal zone of the Gulf of Mexico includes an array of habitats that are home to many important species including waterfowl, shorebirds, and endangered sea turtles. Unfortunately, it is also impacted by marine debris, which enters the South Texas coastal zone in a number of ways; this may include ineffective or improper waste management, litter carried in stormwater runoff, and accidental or intentional dumping on shorelines or at sea. This project focused on both land-based and water-based marine debris prevention in this area, with the goal being to engage and educate K-12 students, as well as a diverse audience of coastal zone residents and beachgoers, to inspire behavior changes to prevent marine debris. To accomplish this task, a diverse set of outreach tools were implemented.

First, the UTRGV’s Coastal Studies Lab developed and implemented a marine debris prevention course to add to its marine biology and ecology class, which receives the participation of over 6,000 K-12 students annually. Each year, the Coastal Studies Lab also provided about 750 students with the opportunity to take a trip along the Laguna Madre and Ship Channel aboard their floating-classroom vessel. In addition, UTRGV worked with high school students to organize hands-on marine debris cleanup activities.

Second, this project conducted outreach to the public in a variety of ways. Two workshops were offered at community centers in South Padre Island and Port Isable to inform local communities about marine debris and its sources. The UTRGV developed a mobile display which was brought to festivals held in South Padre Island in the summer and fall. Interactive beach signs, in English and Spanish, were placed on local beaches where beachgoers could help capture photos for a time-lapse of debris on the beaches. As a final component of this project, Public Service Announcements (PSAs) were developed, in both English and Spanish, and were broadcasted through local radio stations, television channels, and newspapers, as well as at local concerts and festivals.