THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: ADDRESSING VULNERABLE HUMAN POPULATIONS IMPACTED BY AND CONTRIBUTING TO MARINE DEBRIS

Session Chair: Sherry Lippiatt, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationAlbert George, South Carolina Aquarium

This session will explore strategies to reduce the social and environmental impacts of marine debris affecting and generated by vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable communities struggle with a litany of social issues, which includes being both directly impacted by and a contributing source of litter and marine debris. From trash pickers who rely on collecting discarded scraps to support their families, to poor communities who lack the political influence to say “not in my backyard”, these communities are exposed to many hazards related to mismanaged waste and marine debris. Additionally, debris generated by low-income and homeless populations is a growing problem here in San Diego and across the United States, but also prevalent in Least Developed Countries worldwide. In California, homeless encampments are common in or adjacent to rivers and streams, and a source of a significant amount of marine debris. This is a sensitive topic that should be approached bearing in mind higher priority needs, but a significant source of marine debris that the community should consider.

This session will explore the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues, particularly as it pertains to waste generation and leakage into the marine environment. We invite presentations on efforts and strategies to address litter and marine debris that affect vulnerable communities or are generated by the homeless and those living in poverty, including cleanup programs, effective partnerships across disciplines, and other success stories or lessons learned. Other presentations related to environmental justice and marine debris are also welcome.

 

Abstracts

 

Global Flow of Plastic: Imports and Exports of Plastic Scrap Around the World

presenting: Amy Brooks (University of Georgia, United States); authors: Amy Brooks (University of Georgia, United States), Shunli Wang (University of Georgia), Jenna Jambeck (University of Georgia)

With approximately 300 million metric tons of plastic scrap produced annually and an average 9% recycled worldwide, increasing recycling is one of the goals to move us closer to a circular economy and keep plastic out of the ocean. But what happens when the flow of plastic is transboundary? In July, China announced to the World Trade Organization that it plans to ban the import of 24 types of solid waste, including plastic scrap. Scrap and waste is the sixth largest U.S. export to China, worth 5 billion dollars. While it is fairly well-known that China has been the largest importer of plastic scrap globally, in this study we examine the trends over time and over geographic regions of the global import and export of plastic scrap. With data documented by the United Nations Statistical database, we compile time trends by country, region, economic status and other classifications for three polymers polypropylene, poly vinyl chloride, and polystyrene. We will discuss the waste management and economic implications of this significant change in plastic scrap flows around the globe.

 

Sustainable alternatives and marine focused education to combat plastic waste in Indonesian schools

presenting: Cassidy Fitzclarence (Bottle for Botol P/L, Australia); authors: Cassidy Fitzclarence (Bottle for Botol P/L, Australia)

Indonesia is suffering from a plastic waste epidemic primarily caused by complex social issues associated with vulnerable populations. Large, densely populated communities obtain their essential items such as drinking water and rice, packaged in single-use plastics. With insufficient waste management systems to collect, centralise and recycle this plastic, monsoonal rainfall and poor urban infrastructure transports plastic waste through run-off to the ocean. These waste issues are replicated throughout Indonesian schools where drinking water is only available through the sale of plastic bottles and drinking cups, which are disposed of haphazardly.

After a year-long consultation with local teachers and NGOs, Bottle for Botol commenced engaging with schools in 2013 to implement a program to break this cycle. A targeted education curriculum on the harms of plastic waste in marine environments was implemented along with water refill stations in school canteens and reusable stainless-steel water bottles for students. By replacing the sale of single-use plastic cups from one school canteen, Bottle for Botol has prevented over 140,950 plastic drinking cups from entering Indonesian waste streams and inspired students to lobby against the sale of plastics in their school. The model has now been replicated in schools across Bali, and plans are underway to reach other islands in Indonesia. This presentation will address some of the key program successes, constraints and discuss plans for the future.

 

Addressing marine debris as a coastal hazard: opportunities and awareness

presenting: Carla Elliff (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil); authors: Carla Elliff (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil), Gerson Fernandino (Universidade Federal da Bahia)

The definition of hazard by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction encompasses dangerous human activities that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage. While marine debris are most frequently associated with low environmental quality, their impact is not restricted to the natural environment. Human health, wellbeing and economic activities can be seriously hindered due to this form of pollution. Despite the obvious threats that marine debris pose to these important areas of human development, they are rarely included in coastal management plans, especially in developing nations. The beaches in the metropolis of Salvador, Brazil, represent this conflict clearly: while economic activities ranging from upper class hotels to informal street vendors depend on tourists and beachgoers, marine debris diminish the quality of their recreational experience, significantly affecting lower income populations who rely on scenic quality to attract customers. By addressing marine debris as a coastal hazard, the issue would gain notability within coastal management strategies, broadening the scope of actions that could be implemented. Thus, vulnerable communities would be able to demand more pressing responses from the public sector, becoming more resilient against the risks.

 

Favelas and stilt houses contributing to floating marine litter in an estuarine environment in the coast of São Paulo, Brazil

presenting: Gerson Fernandino (Universidade Federal da Bahi, Brazil); authors: Gerson Fernandino (Universidade Federal da Bahi, Brazil), Carla Elliff (Universidade Federal da Bahia)

Thousands of families live in favelas and stilt houses under extreme poverty conditions within the Santos-São Vicente estuarine system, state of São Paulo, Brazil. They mainly dwell in wooden houses that lack minimum sanitation conditions, and are often not benefitted by public waste collection and sewage network. It is common to see both solid waste and wastewater being directly discharged in natura into estuarine waters. Once in the water, litter items, especially plastic, tend to float. Some of it becomes trapped in the roots of mangrove trees and some is transported by tidal currents along the estuary channels to the Bay of Santos, where the items can be deposited on beaches. Floating marine litter was evaluated, monthly, through visual censuses onboard a small vessel at six specific stations distributed along the estuary channels for periods of 30 min. Litter observation was opportunistic while monitoring sea turtles in the area. Plastic was the most abundant item recorded (89%) and most items came from domestic activities (54%), confirming the deficiency in the basic sanitation system of the favelas/stilt houses area. The occurrence of this type of litter threatens marine and estuarine life, such as sea turtles and coastal birds, and, when deposited on beaches, poses risks to beachgoers. This form of pollution also reflects in costs to the public administration, compromises scenic beauty and, therefore, cause losses to the tourism sector.

 

The San Diego River: A case study in strategies to address urban encampments as a significant source of marine debris

presenting: Rob Hutsel (San Diego River Park Foundation, United States); authors: Rob Hutsel (San Diego River Park Foundation, United States)

In 2017, San Diego received national and international attention for a Hep A outbreak. Largely attributed to a growing homeless population, the outbreak brought a heightened awareness of the significant homeless encampments along the 52 mile long San Diego River. In a one year period, The San Diego River Park Foundation documented an 84% increase in these encampments, representing more than 10% of the City’s unsheltered homeless population. The San Diego River Park Foundation also documented that 98% of the trash in the riverbed was sourced to these encampments.

Studies have shown that approximately 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources. It is also estimated that one million lbs. of trash enters the lower San Diego River annually.

This presentation will share details of a six month initiative to achieve a trash-free San Diego River through a partnership between the nonprofit San Diego River Park Foundation and the City of San Diego.

The initiative brought together landowners, public agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Specific strategies will be discussed including the adaptation of a comprehensive adaptive field assessment program utilizing a mobile application developed by The San Diego River Park Foundation. This program known as “RAFT” empowered community members to be essential partners.

 

Management of Homeless Encampments

presenting: Christine Flowers (Valley Foothill Watersheds Collaborative, United States); authors: Christine Flowers (Valley Foothill Watersheds Collaborative, United States), Rob Hutsel (San Diego River Park Foundation)

CA has the over 225 of the homeless population of the US and San Diego has the fourth largest population of homeless in the US. in 2016, of the 118,142 people experiencing homelessness in California, 66% (78,390 people) were without shelter. This presentation will showcase efforts of the The San Diego River Park Foundation’s (SDRPF) Healthy River, Healthy Communities Program which is its signature volunteer stewardship program and efforts in the Sacramento Region to address the environmental justice issues and environmental impacts of homeless encampments in riparian corridors.

SFRPF’s Healthy River, Healthy Communities program which includes documentation and cleanup of homeless encampments has five components:

  1. The Clean and Green Team coordinating large scale clean-ups each month based on needs identified through RiverBlitz trash data.
  2. During River Blitz each year two volunteer field surveys of the River are completed. Trained volunteers document the River’s condition using surveys with GPS units and cameras to map location, types, and amounts of trash, invasive species, and park amenity issues.
  3. River Rescue volunteers support the large scale clean-ups by scouting sites prior to and following large clean-ups to make sure we get all the trash out, as well as targeting smaller trash sites that are too small or remote for large scale clean-ups.
  4. River Assessment Team has a staff person with volunteers scout for trash and other issues through weekly surveys on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Tuesday each month, marking the locations and notes on maps for future clean-up.
  5. RiverWatch Volunteers coordinate groups for monthly water quality testing and nutrient monitoring at sample sites along the length of the River, tracking the effects of clean-up efforts and identify water quality

 

Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education (RICE): Engaging Vulnerable Human Populations Impacted by and Contributing to Marine Debris

presenting: Albert Gorge (South Carolina Aquarium, United States); authors: Albert George (South Carolina Aquarium, United States)

Sea level rise, storm surge and marine/aquatic debris constitute a serious threat to human health and safety, commerce and culture, and wildlife and natural habitats alike. The goal of the Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education (RICE) is to develop a coordinated resilience strategy for the communities and shoreline of the southeastern Atlantic bight region. In 2016, the South Carolina Aquarium launched the Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education (R.I.C.E.) in collaboration with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, SCETV, Allen University, Medical University of South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Justice Program to develop a model for community resilience education and outreach that could further serve as a potential national model for how to engage and remove barriers for under-served communities on the topics associated with coastal resilience. Critical to the success of this effort is the ability to develop meaningful partnerships with those community organizations that have established relationships with the desired targeted at risk populations. As part of this process, we have collaborated not only with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission but also with organizations like the Sandalwood Community Food Pantry that feeds over 800 families in Beaufort County South Carolina.