For a couple of years, I carried a jar from the North Atlantic around the halls of the General Assembly, county council buildings, and community meetings across the state. It was a compelling visual of the results of our society’s disposable ways.
Horrifying, they’d say. What can we do? But they’d also ask, what about closer to home? What’s in the Chesapeake?
I called up Stiv Wilson, my old Surfrider Foundation friend, who was working for the 5 Gyres Institute and had sailed the oceans sampling for plastic, and asked for his help.
Last November, with a small grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Annapolitan Chris Charbonneau volunteering his time and his family’s sailboat, we set off for four days of research on the Bay. We used a manta trawl to collect samples from the surface of the water from Deale to the South River, and in the Eastern Bay.
We took 14 other people with us, including a middle school teacher, a minister, journalists, a funder, and colleagues from the advocacy world. We also brought along Jeff Corbin, the senior advisor for the Chesapeake and Anacostia River at the US EPA. He confessed that he had agreed to come because he liked our work, and who wouldn’t want a day on the Bay? But he was skeptical that we would find anything.
When we pulled that first sample in, we were all horrified by what we saw. The density of microplastics was eye-popping. By the end of that day, Jeff asked what it would take for Trash Free Maryland to do the project again, bigger and better.
Those four days didn’t end up yielding enough samples to do any laboratory analysis. It was November, so it was (really) cold, often windy, and the churning seas had pushed a lot of the plastic into the water column.
We wrote a proposal to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which generously awarded us a grant to fund much of the project. Working with Jeff, we have lab support from the EPA. Chris recruited an array of sailors from up and down the Bay. Stiv is coming back. And we met Dr. Chelsea Rochman, an ecotoxicologist from University of California at Davis, who is helping us make our research scientifically rigorous. And she’ll be on board with us, conducting her own research about microplastics!
Just like last fall, we’ve invited a crew of advocates, elected officials, journalists, and other folks who will be better at telling the story and helping us solve this problem once they see the research firsthand. You can meet them all during the project as we live stream our work on Periscope, and share hundreds of photos and posts on social media. Just follow the #chesbay #trashtrawl hashtags for all the scoops, from us and from our partners on board.
Once the research portion is over, we’ll be back in those General Assembly hallways, county council offices, and community meetings across the state, talking about what we found. We hope to inspire people to take action, in their daily lives with how they see disposable plastics, and in policies and programs that reduce trash pollution in our neighborhoods and waterways. We need your help to get the word out; please consider making a donation today.
Now, off to the marina!