A Holistic Approach to Reducing Plastic Marine Debris in Coastal North Carolina
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Affecting waters and coastlines worldwide, plastic marine debris is a pervasive issue that continues to intensify. It threatens wildlife, habitats, and ecosystem functioning, as well as coastal tourism and recreation. This problem can be addressed in ways ranging from local to international in scope, and voluntary to mandatory in implementation. Our objective was to reduce plastic marine debris generation in coastal North Carolina via both voluntary and mandatory approaches; therefore, we used both bottom-up and top-down methods. We focused the bottom-up piece of our project on increasing awareness of the ecological hazards plastic marine debris causes and on encouraging consumers to stop using plastic shopping bags. To this end, we employed a combination of formal and informal education tools, which included presenting in classrooms, leading coastal cleanups, and designing a plastic marine debris exhibit that we displayed at environmentally themed community events. The school presentations targeted students from kindergarten to high school, and are adaptable to a variety of levels and teacher objectives. The coastal cleanups provided community members with an opportunity to see firsthand the local extent of marine debris. Our exhibit enabled us to reach a large and diverse audience, and to show the connection between our decisions and environmental impacts. The top-down component of our project focused on understanding the effectiveness of the Outer Banks plastic bag ban (NC Senate Bill 1018) at reducing plastic marine debris and changing consumer behaviors, as well as its popularity among residents. NC Senate Bill 318, introduced in March 2011, calls for a repeal of this ban, so we composed a policy memo arguing against the repeal and sent it to all state senators. We supported our position with the results we obtained from surveys we conducted of Outer Banks and Carteret County residents. The majority of Outer Banks respondents were in support of the ban, and the majority of Carteret County respondents stated that they would support a plastic bag ban in their county, which lent credence to our argument. Our holistic approach, based on bottom-up and top-down measures, enabled us to test and assess a variety of tools that could reduce plastic marine debris in coastal North Carolina.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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