This project analyzes spatial patterns in marine debris composition in the mid-Atlantic region to better inform and target future reduction efforts. Understanding the types of marine debris most commonly found in our local ecosystems (e.g. single-use plastics) and their spatial patterns will tell us what types of products and geographical areas on which the National Aquarium and its partners can most effectively focus our reduction efforts. We can then relate the debris data to the surrounding factors that contribute to the identified patterns, including population size, land use, economic factors, degree of urbanization, and existence of debris-related legislation. Displaying these correlations visually on a map will elucidate their relationships (or lack thereof) and help determine where reduction efforts would be most effective, helping partners to make the most efficient use of limited resources.
The National Aquarium is the state coordinator for all International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) events in Maryland. The ICC, organized by Ocean Conservancy, has the largest collection of item-specific and spatially explicit marine debris data (including number of each debris type and their geographical coordinates) available over time displayed in their Ocean Trash Index. Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tracks marine debris items removed through its Marine Debris Tracker program. To understand factors that are related to patterns in marine debris, we can utilize GIS datasets on population, economic factors, land use and urbanization freely available from federal and state agencies including USGS, Census bureau, EPA, Maryland DNR’s Coastal Atlas and the Chesapeake Bay Program. Our staff experts can assist with gathering the data about current legislation related to debris (e.g. bans on single-use plastic), and guide GIS data compilation and spatial analysis.
As a result of this project, we would like to see a regional map of the mid-Atlantic as well as a more localized map for Maryland and DC showing the amount and type of single-use plastic marine debris removed, and what factors of the surrounding area may contribute to the composition of marine debris present. Surrounding factors may include population size, land use, local legislation, and extent of urbanization. Expected outputs from this project includes maps depicting the spatial patterns in marine debris, and probable correlation between any of these factors and the type of marine debris (e.g. composition of the single-use plastic debris) removed from the area. A brief analysis regarding the findings of this data should accompany the maps created. The analysis may include what factors proved to be the most connected to the type of marine debris (e.g. single-use plastic debris) most commonly removed from an area.
The maps and reports generated from this project will assist many organizations, including National Aquarium, by providing a clear view of the areas that are most in-need of marine debris outreach and what factors need to be addressed in that outreach. We and many of our partners are interested in using this data to create targeted outreach programs or behavior change campaigns addressing marine debris, especially single-use plastics. Our efforts will be more effective if we have these maps to reveal the patterns in marine debris and the local factors that affect them. We can target our efforts to address the most impactful factors. In addition, information from this project will strengthen grant proposals to fund marine debris reduction efforts. Legislators and environmental organizations advocating for legislation that will reduce marine debris at its source can use these maps to create a stronger case for marine debris legislation.