Transferring Knowledge to Understand the NERRS’s Niche in Addressing Aquatic-Bound Debris

Estuaries are an important link in the chain of trash becoming marine debris, but the transport of plastic and other debris through watersheds and in estuaries is understudied.


Designed for durability, plastics remain in the environment indefinitely. Plastic and other anthropogenic debris are altering aquatic ecosystems, contaminating waterways and impacting water quality and habitat resilience. In some cases, it can cause blockages and exacerbate flooding conditions and also results after natural disasters prompting emergency response. Across the Reserve System, aquatic-bound debris is an issue of concern for reserves and their surrounding communities. Despite overwhelming interest in growing programs related to plastics, each reserve is at a different stage of development in addressing debris issues. Different regions and states have differing priorities on what behaviors or policies the collected data would inform.

This project works to further understand individual and system-wide reserve needs relating to plastic issues. The team is working with the Debris Community of Practice (DCoP) – an existing network of organizations researching and monitoring aquatic-bound land-based debris that eventually becomes marine debris – to develop a draft strategic plan that focuses on estuaries. Project outcomes include a roadmap to further advance the Reserve System’s niche in the DCoP, cross-sector knowledge transfer workshops, and conceptualizing toolkits for education to promote community involvement and behavior change and coastal decision-maker engagement to consider policy actions.