Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Microplastics: What we've learned and what's next...

Microplastics sampling season is just around the corner but here is a quick recap of what we found out last year.  The 2015 season was highly impacted by weather and a lot of recreational traffic on many of the beaches in the summer (not surprising, but frustrating!).  We sampled five of NH's most loved beaches, Hampton Beach, Jenness Beach, Wallis Sands, North Hampton State Beach and Hampton Harbor beach from May until September.

During the 5 months of sampling we found the overall average concentration / beach was:
Beach Overall AVG Microplastics concentration pieces/m3
Jenness  3090
Wallis Sands 2890
Hampton  Harbor 1762
Hampton Beach 1660
North Hampton 500

The seven main categories of microplastics found in samples were:
  • Pellets (pre- fabricated nurdles)
  • Fragments
  • Whole Pieces
  • Foams
  • Films
  • Filaments
  • Cigarette Parts
As with the previous year, the predominant types of microplastics found on these beaches were fragments and foams, although on Jenness Beach, prefabricated nurdles were the predominant type of microplastic found.

Along with collecting some interesting and sometimes unexpected data (such as the low concentrations of microplastics on Hampton Beach and the high concentration of nurdles on Jenness), in the years since we started sampling for microplastics we have also learned some valuable lessons which we hope will make sampling this year go more smoothly:

1) Do not try to sample all of NH 's beaches:  NH Beaches are all very different with regard to topography, sand type, usage and most importantly, accessibility.  We quickly realized that even though we originally set out to sample 12 beaches, that this would not be possible because some beaches were too rocky and others, because of the parking  and residence restrictions, were nearly impossible to access.  We have since narrowed our scope and try and sample 5-6 beaches once a month from April- October.

2) Keep it Simple:  Since we depend on our volunteers, realizing that they are giving up their time to help out means that we needed to streamline our protocols and make this project as simple as possible.

3) Sampling doesn't always go as planned: The ideal sampling session is a beautiful day- 75 degrees, sunny, no wind and dry, dry, dry sand that can go through sieves easily, no parking issues and few people on the beach.  These days happen, but when they don't it makes sampling frustrating and we need to adjust. If the sand is too wet, we either reschedule or we bag up the samples and dry them at UNH (or usually, my basement), if there are too many people, you have to reschedule (why summer sampling needs to happen in the early morning or the late afternoon) and if it is cold, overcast or windy, you just have to dress warmly and work quickly and efficiently.  If the day is not ideal, plan to sample, but realize it could be rescheduled.

4) Many hands make easy work: This is where volunteers come in.  Without our volunteers, this project, as fun, interesting and IMPORTANT, as it is, could not happen with the help of volunteers.  The more we have, the better. On days when we have 6-8 volunteers, we can do a beach in 1.5 hours. When I sample alone, it can take closer to 2.5 hours.  So please, sign up and volunteer and bring a friend!

This year, with the early onset of spring and the lack of snow on the beaches, we start sampling on April 11th!  We have reduced the number of beaches from 12 to 6, and all beaches are readily accessible.  Our protocols have been streamlined as best as possible and we hope to just do quick trainings on the days we sample.  We plan on sampling every month beginning in April and ending in October.  We also hope to have a few sorting sessions throughout so we can be all wrapped up by November.

Here is the schedule for April- again- we hope for perfect days, but we also realize that we may have to reschedule in case of weather.
  • Mon 4/11- 10 AM:Hampton Beach
  • Tues 4/12-10 AM: Wallis Sands State Beach
  • Thurs 4/14-1 PM- Jenness Beach
  • Fri 4/15-1 PM- North Hampton State Beach
  • Mon 4/18- 3:30 PM-Seabrook Beach
  • Tues 4/19-4 PM- Hampton Harbor
Please join us! We would love to have you! To join us, fill out a volunteer application and e-mail it to Jen Kennedy at jen (at) blueoceansociety.org!

See you on the beach!

Microplastics hashtags in the sand : #nhmarinedebris, #plasticisforever, #findthenurdle

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trash Knows No Season

Trash knows no season. On January 9, volunteers at our monthly cleanup at Jenness Beach picked up 42 pounds of litter. Their trash tallies included 149 pieces of plastic, 10 plastic bottles, 8 plastic bags, and even a condom.

Even during the winter, we find lots of litter. Some of it gets washed onto the beach by winter storms, and some is carelessly left behind by beachgoers or blows onto the beach from the street. All of it can be harmful to marine life if it is left on the beach, which is why regular cleanups are so important.

Since 2001, we have cleaned Jenness Beach once a month with the help of volunteers. The cleanups are open to the public – individuals, families and groups are welcome.  In 2015, we removed 774 pounds of litter from Jenness Beach alone.

Our next cleanup is Saturday, February 13 at 10:30 AM. The cleanups are held rain, snow or shine.  To sign up, call (603) 431-0260 or e-mail info@blueoceansociety.org.

Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation partners with GXT Green for our monthly beach cleanups at Jenness Beach. GXT Green, based in Billerica, Mass., develops and markets sustainable products and supporting services that cost-effectively solve the everyday environmental concerns of corporations, communities and governments. This includes solutions that reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags, EPS foam packaging, and Greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Is Your Life Too Plastic? Find out on January 7

Happy New Year! It's been awhile since we've posted... we're going to try to do better in 2016. Wanted to let you know about a couple upcoming events.

First is a screening of the movie bag it, followed by a discussion. The 45-minute film will be shown at Oyster River High School in Durham, NH. This event is hosted by Oyster River Sustainability Committee and we'll be leading the discussion!  The free film starts at 6:30.

Also, our first cleanup of 2016 is this Saturday!  Join us at Jenness Beach at 10:30 AM. All supplies are provided.  Please RSVP to info@blueoceansociety.org.

Hope to see you at one or both of these events!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Earth Day Beach Cleanups!

The huge "haul" at Peirce Island, Earth Day 2006. Will we find as much this year?
Want to celebrate Earth Day and help marine life at the same time?  Join us for an upcoming beach cleanup!

All supplies are provided, and the cleanups take 1-2 hours. You can even just drop by for 15 minutes, and that will make a difference to the health of a marine animal!

This green sea turtle in Belize was freed from a plastic tie. The turtle's body had grown around the tie.  Green sea turtles are also found in the Gulf of Maine.John Chinuntdet, 2007/Marine Photobank
How Do Cleanups Help?
Marine debris can affect marine life in a multitude of ways.  Animals can eat debris, which can then lodge in their digestive tract, blocking their ability to digest food. Or it can make them feel full so they don't each enough "real" food. If you want a really graphic example of the effects of marine debris, read this story to learn about a sei whale whose stomach was lacerated by a shard from a DVD case. 

Items such as balloon strings and discarded fishing line can entangle marine life, with sometimes fatal results. If it washes out to the ocean, debris can also help transport invasive species and toxins. 

Let's get it off the beach before it washes away!

Cleanup Schedule:

  • Saturday, April 18:
    • York, ME: Meet at 10:00 AM at Cape Neddick Beach. Hosted by Susan DeQuattro of Coldwell Banker Yorke Reality and Tina Bach.
    • Hampton Beach, NH: Meet at 10:30 AM at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, 170 Ocean Blvd, Hampton Beach, NH
    • Portsmouth, NH: Meet at 11:00 AM on Peirce Island, on the small hill just past the city pool. 
    • Major Earth Day Sponsor: gells

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Microplastics sampling is gearing up for May start date!

NH Sea Grant and Blue Ocean are gearing up to start microplastics sampling again for 2015.  Because the winter has been so drawn out, we have not been able to get out and get onto the beaches to see what kind of micro-debris winter has deposited on our coastline.  Based on our year-long pilot study, we have been able to determine which beaches are the most impacted by microplastic debris and will become the focus of this year's sampling efforts.  We will also continue to sample the other beaches but not as intensively.  The 5 main beaches that we are looking for consistent volunteer help include: Hampton Beach, Hampton Harbor, Jenness Beach, Jenness Beach at Cable Rd and North Hampton Beach. The other beaches, Wallis Sands, North Beach and New Castle Beach will be sampled less frequently along with Seabrook Beach. We are in the process of setting the sampling schedule and as soon as that is finalized we will be conducting some trainings and recruiting volunteers.  For more information please contact Gabby Bradt at NH Sea Grant, 603-862-2033 or gabriela.bradt@unh.edu.

The Stewardship Network recently wrote an article about our efforts, click on the picture and have look!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Plastic, Plastic and More Plastic in Provincetown

Race Point Beach on a gray, foggy day
Microplastics, bottle caps and straws by the hundreds... this is what we encountered when we arrived at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, MA for our annual cleanup during the annual New England Whale Watch Naturalist Workshop. The workshop, hosted by Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, Center for Coastal Studies and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is an opportunity for whale watch naturalists from around New England to get together to share ideas and learn the latest updates in whale research and conservation. And sometimes, we're lucky enough to even be able to see whales from the beach! But this day it was a bit too foggy.

Cleanup volunteers on a foggy beach
For the last several years, we've worked with the Jesse Mechling, Marine Education Director at the Center for Coastal Studies, to organize a beach cleanup at one of Provincetown's long, beautiful, but sadly trash-ridden beaches. Not only is the cleanup a great team-building and networking opportunity, but it allows us all to make a real difference in the health of local marine life populations by removing marine debris before it washes into the ocean, where it can impact whales and other marine animals through entanglement or ingestion. We also collect data on our findings, and can compare them from year to year.
Sand-covered parking lot at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, MA
This year, first of all, we arrived to find that half the Race Point Beach parking lot was covered with sand due to winter storms. That gave us a good idea of what to expect on the beach, as we headed down to the shore and found lots of storm-tossed debris, especially in the wrack line (the line of seaweed and debris left behind as the tide recedes).

We found a lot more small plastics than we expected. And as an unfortunate example of the persistence of litter, we found 10 biofilm chips from the spill that occurred from the Hooksett, NH wastewater treatment plant on March 6, 2011 (read more about that here).

Bottle cap on the beach
Thanks to the 19 volunteers that helped with this cleanup and removed 40 lbs of debris from the beach in less than an hour! Here are the totals for what we picked up:
362 Plastic pieces
210 Bottle caps
101 Straws
44 Rope pieces
20 Cigarette butts
14 Balloons
13 Food wrappers
11 Plastic bags
11 Foam pieces
10 Hooksett disks (biofilm chips)
8 Plastic beverage bottles
7 Tampon applicators
6 Strapping bands
5 Nets/bait bags
3 Pieces of fishing line
2 Six-pack rings
1 Glove
1 Condom
1 Syringe
1 Glass bottle
Additional items included: Cigarette packaging, zip ties, an oil drum lid, glow sticks, sunglasses, a spoon, 2 cups, 2 (unmatched) boots, a shotgun shell, a razor and a toothbrush.

Us "whaleheads" are always happy when we can be outside
Thanks to everyone who helped!

Want to participate in a cleanup? Learn about Blue Ocean Society's upcoming cleanups here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We just pulled off the first EVER underwater lost fishing gear retrieval in NH waters!

For the last several years, we have gone out to the Isles of Shoals and conducted coastal cleanups of the islands.  Often, we came back with many unfishable lobster traps that had gotten lost and then washed up on shore.  We have also conducted a few side-scan sonar expeditions in Gosport Harbor on Rozalia Project's sailboat, American Promise.  We have seen the bottom of the Gosport Harbor littered with lost traps and other debris and always hoped (and even applied for funding) that one day we would be able to not only detect the gear, but also RETRIEVE the gear.  Well, we got our wish!

Jen Kennedy and Capt. Lee Schatvet
Last week, in collaboration with World Animal Protection (WAP), NH Fish and Game and lobsterman Lee Schatvet (F/V Yesterday's Storm),  we (BOS and NH Sea Grant/Cooperative Extension) were finally able to go out and detect and mark lost/inactive lobster traps with Humminbird side-scan sonars that were loaned by Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Then, we were able to go back and retrieve some of the gear that we found.  This was a two-day project made possible by funding support from WAP and our partnerships with NH Fish and Game and Capt. Schatvet.

Our first day , Wednesday, August 27th, Jen Kennedy (BOS), Elizabeth Hogan(WAP), Kara Wooten (WAP) and myself (NHSG) boarded the Yesterday's Storm and headed out towards the Isles of Shoals with our eyes glued to the screen of the Humminbird, which Lee had mounted on the side of his boat.
Elizabeth Hogan (left) and Kara Wooten
 from World Animal Protection (WAP)
Now, the Humminbird is a great piece of equipment and relatively easy to use, however, the big challenge was being able to see the screen in bright sunlight as well as figuring out if what you were seeing on the screen was really a lobster trap or just rocks.  Additionally, once we were sure that what we were looking at was, in fact, a trap, was determining whether it was, in fact, a lost/inactive trap!  This required confirmation of the presence or absence of a lobster buoy before we were able to mark the spot as a potential waypoint for the next day.  The Hummingbird worked very well in shallower water, but  the deeper we scanned, the smaller the traps appeared and sometimes we couldn't detect anything at all.

The Humminbird 1197c side-scan sonar

We spent most of Wednesday doing transects, looking for traps both in Gosport Harbor and later at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.  In all, we were able to mark 34 potential lost traps for us to go back and try and retrieve the next day.

The next day, Thursday, August 28th we met at Rye Harbor at 7 AM and NH Fish and Game Conservation Officer, Dale Gargac was waiting for us.  In order to be able to do this kind of project in NH waters we need to have a CO present to ensure that what we are hauling up is not an active lobster trap and that the traps we do haul up that are inactive need to be examined and deemed fishable or unfishable.  Touching a lobster trap without the expressed permission of the owner OR without a CO present is illegal under NH law, so it CO Gargac's participation and presence was important and required.

We arrived at one of marked waypoints around 8:30 AM and we quickly got to work.  Capt. Lee had soldered together a heavy duty grapple which is what we needed to lower and drag in order to hook lost gear.

Gabby Bradt hoisting the custom grapple
While Lee lowered the grapple, the rest of us got ready with data sheets and kept an eye on the sonar. However, even though we may have marked locations of potential traps, getting back to that exact spot proved difficult because of the tide and wind.  On the third grapple drag,  we hooked something in the general proximity of several marked traps and we all cheered and hoped that we had hooked a "ghost" trap.  Well, we hooked a ghost trap for sure, along with 7 others- in fact we had hooked onto a lost 8-trap trawl.  This was amazing but we were not expecting to deal with so many traps all at once.  Lee used his winch to haul up trap after trap and we had to jump into action, collecting data, photographing the traps and seeing and counting what animals were inside and outside of the traps.  We had to move quickly in order to return the animals back to the water before they expired.  It was exciting and at times chaotic!  We also had to process the traps and move them out of the way to make room for others.

Capt. Lee Schatvet lowering the grapple

A beautiful sight- hauling up a lost trap- the first of many that day!

A lost lobster trap covered in kelp, sponges and tunicates

While we processed those first 8 traps, Lee kept on grappling in the same area and suddenly, we were hooked on something else.  Yep, he started hauling up a 10 trap trawl, also lost. More data collection, more pictures, lots of "look at all these amazing critters we never get to see" exclamations and lots and lots of Jonah and rock crabs, brittle stars, blood stars, lobsters, fish, worms and spider crabs that used seaweed as camouflage.

All told, we found 24 lost, inactive traps, most of which were still in really great condition and could be used again and over 400 pounds of inactive rope and line.  We were able to release about 127 animals (lobsters, crabs and fish), 51 of them were lobsters, some with eggs, back to the ocean.  While at sea, CO Gargac called the owner of the traps and we were able to return 19 traps to him when we returned to Rye Harbor.  The rest of the traps were deemed unfishable and we disposed of them in a dumpster at Rye Harbor along with the 400 pounds of rope and line.  The traps and ropes were then taken to a waste to energy facility where it would be turned into electricity.
Elizabeth Hogan (WAP) and Jen Kennedy (BOS) processing a ghost trap
Elizabeth Hogan (WAP) returning a beautiful Sea Robin back to the water

Lost trap "Mountain"
Captain Lee Schatvet using a lift to bring the traps onto  the dock
Our goal for this expedition was to find and retrieve lost gear in NH waters to prevent 'ghost fishing' and to make the ocean a bit safer for marine life and for other ocean users.  In NH, approximately 10% of a lobsterman's traps are lost every year as a result of weather or other boaters cutting the lines accidentally. These traps are expensive and the economic impacts are significant in loss of gear and loss of potential catch.  The traps continue to work, they continue to fish even if they are not being actively hauled by their owners.  Additionally, lost gear can accumulate into larger, entangled 'balls' and become safety hazards for both commercial and recreational boaters.  Being able to successfully remove lost gear, return animals to a cleaner habitat, remove potential hazards and return useable equipment to its owner was incredibly rewarding. Working collaboratively with WAP, NH Sea Grant, NH Fish And Game and Capt. Lee was a clear example of the amazing things we can accomplish together and properly and within the confines of the law.  All of the logistical pieces worked as they were intended and we were able to do some good in many aspects of this complicated issue.

 Mission accomplished. For now.

The team. From left to right: Capt. Lee Schatvet, CO Dale Gargac, Elzabeth Hogan (WAP), Gabby Bradt (NH Sea Grant), Jen Kennedy (BOS) and Kara Wooten (WAP).