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Sea Grant Coordinates Marine Debris Action Plan for LI Sound

Plastic pollution on our shorelines is plain to see, but concern is mounting over the impacts of microplastics in our waters. Credit: Paul C. Focazio, NYSG

Abandoned boats, broken lobster traps, discarded tires and all types of other trash aren’t just eyesores on Long Island Sound’s beaches, coves and channels. They’re also hazards to wildlife, can impede navigation, and threaten human safety and health. 

Plastic pollution on our shorelines is plain to see, but concern is mounting over the impacts of microplastics in our waters. Credit: Paul C. Focazio, NYSG
Plastic pollution on our shorelines is plain to see, but concern is mounting over the impacts of microplastics in our waters. Credit: Paul C. Focazio, NYSG

To address this problem, Sea Grant programs in New York (NYSG) and Connecticut (CTSG) will coordinate a Marine Debris Action Plan for Long Island Sound that will develop a comprehensive strategy to rid the Sound of as much debris as possible. Leading the project for NYSG is Kathleen Fallon, Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist, who is based at Stony Brook University. 

The plan will delineate goals and strategies needed for implementation, enlisting undergraduate students from Stony Brook University and UConn in service learning opportunities in the 2020-21 academic year to research other multi-state debris removal plans that could serve as templates.

The Marine Debris Action Plan for Long Island Sound is one of eight projects awarded funding through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sea Grant-Marine Debris Special Projects Competition. A total of $350,000 was awarded for the eight projects, which will be matched by $350,000 from the state programs. The NY-CT project will receive $50,000 in federal funding that will be matched with $53,000 from the two programs.

“Marine debris is more than a coastal issue, as a good portion of the garbage that finds its way into the Sound was discarded miles inland,” said Fallon. “By working together and making marine debris awareness a priority, we can protect and enhance the Sound.”

The two Sea Grant programs will develop the plan in cooperation with the EPA Long Island Sound Study, a bi-state cooperative partnership of state and federal agencies, and numerous user groups and organizations concerned about the estuary shared by New York and Connecticut. The NOAA Marine Debris Program coordinators for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will be active participants, sharing insights and experiences from other similar efforts.

“New York Sea Grant is thrilled to partner in this effort to reduce the flow of trash, from large to microscopic, in order to protect our Sound, its habitats and its creatures,” said NYSG Associate Director Kathy Bunting-Howarth. “Through collaborative planning, we can work to stop the flow of these contaminants into this estuary of national significance and from mistakenly being ingested as food by an aquatic creature.”

NYSG LI Sound debris removal project
Credit: Ryan Strother, NYSG

To begin the two-year project later this spring, the Sea Grant programs will invite stakeholders concerned about the marine debris issue to join as partners in creating a plan that builds on the significant existing efforts. These include five recent major campaigns in both states aimed at reducing plastic pollution, corralling derelict fishing gear and cleaning up beaches; along with three new initiatives and three Sea Grant-funded research projects on impacts of plastic on the marine environment. 

“We are excited to be working with our Sea Grant colleagues across the Sound to improve the estuary,” added Fallon. “This initiative will bring together diverse partners already working on marine debris issues and work to develop a concise action plan to reduce the amount and impact of marine debris in the Long Island Sound.”

As the project progresses, partners will be asked to voluntarily take on responsibilities for specific actions to advance the plan to completion. Once finished, the plan will provide a methodical description of the steps that should be followed from 2022 to 2027 to achieve the priority goals and objectives agreed upon by the partners. 

For more on the topic of marine debris, visit www.nyseagrant.org/microplastics.

NYSG, a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 34 university-based programs under the NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program.

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