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

Kids picking up debris on a NYC beach.
On Veteran's Day 2016, students from the 2nd Year of Sail Academy braved strong winds to venture to a bird sanctuary behind the Statue of Liberty, where they collected marine debris, identified the shells of organisms that live in New York Harbor, and experienced firsthand the salt marsh environment that once made up most of its shoreline. (Photo Credit: Hudson River Community Sailing)

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.

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. Their findings were showcased in a display in Hudson River Park, which was placed by the park’s pedestrian walkway and visible to the 17 million visitors the park receives each year. 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.