Hudson Estuary Litter Prevention (HELP): Marine Debris Education and Prevention in New York City

Kids picking up debris on a NYC beach.

Hudson River Community Sailing teamed up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to educate and empower New York City high school students in their Sail Academy afterschool program to become stewards of the Hudson Estuary through marine debris collection, prevention, and outreach.

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

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Project Dates: September 2016 - August 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach grant, Hudson River Community Sailing (HRCS) worked to educate high school students about marine debris in the New York City area. Other partners include nine partner schools, US Sailing, The River Project, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Hudson River Park Trust,  and the New York Harbor Foundation Billion Oyster Project.

What is the project and why is it important?
As the most populated city in the United States, New York City’s residents and visitors create a lot of trash and recycling. Some of those materials end up as litter and can make their way into the Hudson River Estuary and other surrounding water bodies. This can have serious consequences for the more than 200 species of fish found in the Hudson and its tributaries. The estuary's productivity is ecologically and economically valuable to much of the Atlantic Coast; key commercial and recreational species like striped bass, bluefish, and blue crab depend on nursery habitat here. Tidal marshes, mudflats, and other significant habitats in and along the estuary support a great diversity of life. The Hudson is also a source of drinking water, process water for industry, recreation areas for picnickers and boaters, and inspiration for artists.

What were the project results?
Hudson River Community Sailing (HRCS) implemented a multistep project to educate teens about marine debris. Students were taught lessons from NOAA marine debris curriculum and visited local water treatment and river preservation sites. They learned about the properties of materials and the sources of the debris they see out on the water. 

In the Collection and Outreach phases of the project, students became stewards of the Hudson Estuary through marine debris collection, prevention, and outreach, and regularly collected debris within Hudson River Park and from the surface of the Hudson River. Hudson River Community Sailing worked with 50 public high school students to learn about the sources, causes, and impacts of marine debris. ​Students studied microplastics, designed a passive debris collection system, collected debris in hand nets, and submitted proposals for a debris display. ​

Students decided to build a passive waste collection display based on a sperm whale size and dimension, and placed it in front of informational signage in the Hudson River Park’s pedestrian walkway which is visible to the 17 million visitors the park receives each year. Students filled the "trash whale" with collected single-use plastics and provided a space to recycle plastics. Throughout the project, the whale was seen by millions of people and many stopped to read the informational signage and asked the students questions about their project. 

Students also presented their findings at local science fairs, and to members of the adult sailing club. Several students also acted as peer educators during the summer of 2017, teaching younger students about marine debris through HRCS's citywide City Sail program. After the conclusion of the project, ten students continued on as Junior Educators in the program's summer camp and taught a lesson they developed​ ​about the sources, impacts, and methods to prevent marine debris. ​HELP​ submitted a lesson plan from this project to the national STEM program of U.S. Sailing, which was accepted and is being used by other programs.