"This Project is Rubbish!"

"This Project is Rubbish" run by the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) and funded by Project Aware has started. "This project is rubbish!" was one of six winning projects from around the globe in Project Aware's Ocean Action Projects for 2013. "This Project is Rubbish" aims to assess the accumulation rates, composition and distribution of macro and micro plastics on two beaches (one being a blue flag beach and the other a non-blue flag beach) in the Overstrand region of the Western Cape of South Africa. This will give an indication of what debris are present, the abundance of these debris, how these debris accumulate over time (and through different seasons) and possibly the sources and impacts of these marine debris. The project also aims to develop awareness amongst the general public regarding marine debris, their impacts on the marine environment, their sources and ways in which the public can help reduce the amount of debris currently in the marine environment and those entering it.

Over the past two weeks work has been done on reviewing previous literature and consulting with people who have experience and knowledge in this area of science to help decide on sampling methods, sampling sites as well as equipment needed. Ideas have been considered on ways in which we can get the public more aware of marine debris. We have considered ideas such as community beach cleans which involve youth, reef cleans, informative signage about marine debris (to be put up at beaches) and public awareness talks. Most of these ideas can be run through SASC’s Citizen Science Project. This program allows members of the public to get involved with marine conservation and marine science by helping out with projects that SASC runs and supports.

Last week a trial beach clean was done at Grotto beach (blue flag beach) in Hermanus. A beach clean is done the day before the first sampling session in order to sanitize the beach of debris (which have been accumulating over time). This allows accumulation rates of micro and macro plastics to be assessed. The entire beach was cleaned including the areas bordering the study area. The rubbish collected was then sorted and weighed. Plastic made up the vast majority of the collected rubbish for both mass and number of debris. This was followed by a trial sampling session where the sampling method was tested.

The sampling method being used is based on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/ Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) guidelines for survey and monitoring of marine litter. This is a standardised method which allows for comparisons between studies. Sampling will be conducted on a weekly basis. The sampling method consists of using transects which run from the water’s edge to the start of the beach vegetation at the back of the beach. GPS coordinates are taken at the beginning and end of every transect line. The interval between each transect depends on the size of the study area. The same transect lines (same GPS points) will be used every sampling session.

Macro and micro debris present on the sediment surface are collected along the length of the transect line. Every piece of debris a meter on either side of the transect line is collected and described according to size, colour, function and composition. Further work will be done to determine accumulation rates and concentrations of debris as well as to figure out the possible sources of debris. Core samples will be taken at points along a transect line to look at micro plastics in the sediment. These samples will not be taken every sampling session and will not be taken across every transect line. Any plastic pellets found will also be collected as this will form part of another study.

Looking forward; this week work is being done on writing up the literature review for the research project. Also the equipment that is needed for sampling will be collected this week. Official sampling is expected to commence next week.