Expanding Nurdle Patrol Monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico

Nurdle Patrol citizen scientist holding up a small jar full of plastic pellets, or nurdles, collected on the beach.

The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute is working with partners in Mexico to expand their  Nurdle Patrol monitoring project while increasing collaboration among scientists, resource managers, and industry representatives in the Gulf of Mexico.

Type of Project: North America Marine Debris Prevention and Removal

Region: Gulf of Mexico

Project Dates: September 2021 - August 2023

Who is involved?
With support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute is working with Universidad Veracruzana to expand the Nurdle Patrol monitoring project to engage citizen scientists in Texas and Mexico. The University of Texas Marine Science Institute will also host a Plastic Pollution Symposium in Texas and Universidad Veracruzana will host one in Mexico.

 

What is the project and why is it important?
Small plastic pellets, called nurdles, are the raw material used for making many plastic products. Nurdles can be found on beaches around the Gulf of Mexico, with particularly high amounts found along the Texas coast. The tiny plastic pellets can be mistaken for food by marine animals. Fish, sea turtles, and birds are all known to accidentally eat them due to their small size and food-like appearance. Documenting plastic pollution on the shorelines of the Gulf of Mexico and raising awareness are important steps to finding solutions to reduce the threat posed by nurdles to animals and their environment.

The Nurdle Patrol, a citizen science monitoring project led by the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute, has been successful in enhancing awareness of plastic pollution among educators, the public, and stakeholders. Findings from this project have also led to policy changes for spills of these plastic pellets in Texas. However, since the coastal currents of the Gulf of Mexico can carry and spread nurdles from afar, a collaborative and coordinated approach with Mexico is needed to effectively prevent and remove nurdles across the region. 

This project is expanding Nurdle Patrol by increasing the number of monitoring sites in Texas and establishing new sites in Mexico. The project will also create Spanish versions of the website, app, and training materials. Establishing Nurdle Patrol monitoring programs throughout the United States and Mexico will allow both countries to identify locations with high numbers of plastic pellets and identify previous pellet spills. The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute and Universidad Veracruzana will host Plastic Pollution Symposiums in Texas and Mexico to bring together citizens, resource managers, state and federal agencies, researchers, and industry representatives to discuss the latest research and conservation issues surrounding plastics in the environment. The goal of this project is to add at least 100 new partners to Nurdle Patrol in the United States and Mexico and collect the first information about the size of the problem in Mexico. 

For more information about this project, visit the Marine Debris Program Clearinghouse.