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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - New England Coast, USA

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New England Coast, USA

sonjaSalamander



Registered: December 2022
City/Town/Province: Titusville
Posts: 1
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I am a Carnegie Mellon undergraduate student studying statistics, machine learning, biology, and sustainability. In addition, I am a research scientist, writer, environmental educator, curriculum designer, and the founder and leader of a genetics and microbiology lab at a New Jersey nonprofit that monitors and educates about aquatic ecosystems. At Carnegie Mellon, I work at the Institute for Green Science in a lab that creates chemical catalysts to break down harmful substances in wastewater, preventing them from entering our aquatic ecosystems. I try to mobilize my anxieties regarding environmental degradation and climate change into data collection and action. I have dedicated much of my life to the conservation of wetlands and old growth forests aiding in the conservation of over 250 acres in urban New Jersey. I grew up visiting beaches and learning to sail. Harnessing the wind, calculating the tides, and exploring, I learned to navigate to islands with paper charts, dividers, and compass, relishing the precious moments when sleek sea mammals or majestic sea turtles surfaced nearby. Out on the water, just miles of sea green in every direction, a plastic bag or stranded balloon shatters the tranquil fantasy. One year my family saw a rookery of seals on Nantucket and noticed one was tangled in rope. We called marine services and were disturbed to hear what a common occurrence this was. While the notion of marine animals becoming tangled has been a horrifying reality for so many decades, seeing it first hand in such a remote place came as a shock. This past summer, my sister, Charlotte, and I embarked on a journey to gather and up-cycle as many washed-ashore ropes and nets as we can find. There is an increasing amount of synthetic fiber ropes accumulating in our ocean and endangering marine life. We collected over 50 pounds of rope, netting, and plastic debris and upcycled our nylon and polyester finds into functional art, encouraging others to collect rope and plastic debris in their local waterways. Growing up exploring Long Island and New England coastlines, discarded fishing nets, ropes from boats, and lobster traps are an abundant sight. Whether nearly hidden in the sand or left amongst rocky shores, the same waves that deposited this rubbish ashore can just as easily reclaim them, putting marine life at risk. What's more, exposure to seawater and UV rays breaks degrades some ropes (like polypropylene) resulting in a mass shedding of sharp micro plastics which can look deceivingly similar to food sources for invertebrates at the bottom of the food web. There is an increasing amount of synthetic fiber rope accumulating in our oceans. We set off to upcycle our nylon and polyester finds into functional art and encourage others to collect rope and plastic debris in their local waterways. We shared advice like the following on our social media: Top three spots plastic ropes and nets can be found hiding on your next trip to the beach! 1.) In the tideline! Tide lines are a beachcombers best friend, often plentiful with shells, sea glass, and other collectible treasures. However, plastic debris is often brought in by the same waves. 2.) Caught in rocks! While they may look deeply embedded, strong waves can easily reclaim these debris, reintroducing them as a threat to marine ecosystems. 3.) Entangled in seaweed mats! Plastic ropes and seaweed have some commonalities. For one thing, they both can float! Floating plastic debris can be swept up with seaweed and found deeply embedded in seaweed mats washed ashore! These mats have been growing in numbers as a result of increased nutrient pollution and global warming.


We got friends, family, and others involved in our beach cleanups. This journey has filled me with new interest in gathering beach debris. I have spent much of the final days of 2022 gathering beach debris. Charlotte and I just weighed in our finds at around 20 pounds. This experience has furthered beach walks as a therapeutic way to unwind during breaks from college. I love the feeling of looking behind me and seeing the beach cleaner than when I had first arrived. The upcycling aspect of this experience has allowed my initial perception of beach debris to be something beyond trash. What is it from? How may have it ended up here? How can it be given a second life? I have learned from Charlotte, skilled in art and crafts, how to use canvas needles and repurpose beach found kite strings and fishing lines for thread. From the 50 pounds of beached ropes, nets, ribbons, and string we made rugs, baskets, pendants, bracelets, coasters, wall hangings, trivets, purses, a belt, and even a bed for our pet ferret, Symphony! We have gathered other useful items on the beach including but not limited to tools, hardware, hair scrunchies, and an ever growing collection of vibrant fishing lures and beach toys. When dug out from the sand and given a good rinse these are functional items. They are distinct from garbage but it is easy to forget how when left to the sand, sun, and sea, these break down into harmful microplastics no different from single use plastic bottles, caps, and straws. Based on my previous experiences in environmental research, advocacy, and education, I have had numerous fortunate opportunities to be interviewed for podcasts, TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers. A common question I get is what advice I have for others to combat environmental degradation and climate change. This is a question I struggle to answer despite it sounding so simple. The environmental issues we face are not simple. They can be viewed as a battle between environmental advocates and larger organizations seeking to maximize the rate at which they extract profit from natural resources. I view environmental decline as the culmination of thousands of decisions people are making every minute of every day. Decisions are constantly being made on what land to develop, what materials to use in construction, what policies and regulations to create, what products to buy, etc. In the scheme of global plastic pollution, 50 pounds of ropes and nets and an additional 50 plus pounds of beach debris are very little. But now when I get to the beach, my gaze is trained to spot every fragment of plastic. I make sure to bring a bag every time. My family now does the same. My goal is to change the mentality of others. To aid people in thinking globally but acting locally to benefit their ecosystems and communities. I believe that we can be most effective by acting within our own sphere of influence, changing our behaviors to be more sustainable, and leading our communities to do the same.


My favorite photo is of my sister Charlotte (left) and I sorting some of our rope finds after cleaning them. Charlotte is working on the beginnings of what became an upcycled rope rug.
Date: December 31, 2022 Views: 10 File size: : 4032 x 3024
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 15
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 8-80
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 50 kilos
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