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The “Plastic in Paradise” program, held by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, focuses on the types and effects of marine debris.
A series of educational programs conducted on the south end of Wrightsville Beach and on Masonboro Island are wrapping up as the season ends.
But there are more programs in the planning process by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Marie Davis, environmental educator, concluded the Wrightsville Beach portion of programs on Wednesday, Aug. 7, focusing on marine debris during the “Plastic in Paradise” program.
Residents and visitors are first offered a mesh bag to pick up trash while they hike around the south end stopping at four stations to learn about the types and effects of marine debris, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
To end the hike, they talk about the south end bird colony then compare the collected items from the mesh bags with the Ocean Conservancy’s top 10 items found list.
“The No. 1 item is cigarettes, and the No. 2 item is caps or lids,” Davis said. “Also down here we do get a lot of straws and packaging; those are also in the top 10.”
Marine debris can travel into the ocean through litter or an overflowing trash can on land or through boats or fishing gear on the water.
“A lot of times commercial vessels will lose whole containers or they’ll have something break open, like during a storm, or actual whole abandoned vessels themselves become marine debris. We’ve seen that some here, like on Masonboro, a Jet Ski washed up or you will get an abandoned sailboat,” Davis said. “… We’re all part of a giant watershed, so eventually it’s going to drain into the ocean and it’s going to impact wildlife here.”
With a buoyancy activity, people find out which items float or sink. Then, they guess how long the items take to decompose.
“They match the item to the different decomposition rates,” Davis said. “A plastic bag is typically 10 to 20 [years].”
People are surprised when she tells them a plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to break down and never biodegrades completely.
There are two upcoming “Wat-er Wetlands” Masonboro programs, located near the north end of Masonboro Island Reserve at Third Beach, on Thursday, Aug. 15, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 17, at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
During September, residents and visitors with access to Masonboro Island can participate in hands-on activities and a self-guided hike on an interpretive loop around the island. The programs will be held every Saturday, except for Sept. 21, in celebration of National Estuaries Day on Sept. 28.
Next spring, the reserve will launch a Terrapin Tally, a citizen science project and collaboration with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
“It’s the first project we’ve done of this scale that really the local community has an opportunity to help collect data,” said Hope Sutton, national reserve stewardship coordinator and southern sites manager.
Participants on stand up paddleboards, kayaks or canoes will collect data on diamondback terrapin turtles with GPS on their smart phones.
“We don’t have a lot of data on our terrapin population, diamondback terrapins here in North Carolina, so … we’ve mapped different routes from the south end of Wrightsville Beach all throughout the reserve,” Davis said.