Text by Paula Dittrick, TMNCPC blogmaster, photos by Shannon Westveer, TMNCPC vice-president, and Robbin Mallett, immediate past TMNCPC communications chair
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is developing a 3-year program aimed at reducing plastics trash and other pollution in the coastal areas, bays, and waterways of the Houston-Galveston region. Trash threatens shorebirds using the beach.
A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Gulf of Mexico Trash-Free Waters program provided financial support for the program, which is being done by ABC in partnership with the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and Black Cat GIS and Biological LLC.
Wilson’s Plovers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Snowy Plovers are all considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need, a state designation by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
ABC reports plastic pollution and trash cause shorebird injuries and deaths—either directly or through the birds’ consumption of aquatic wildlife. Shorebirds and seabirds are especially vulnerable because they may consume or become entangled in trash and plastics, an ABC news release said.
A February 2019 Marine Pollution Bulletin outlined research that indicates marine debris on the Texas coast accumulates at a rate 10 times faster than other Gulf states that were sampled. Plastics accounts for most marine debris.
Separately, long-term data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Ocean Conservancy showed Texas has the highest average weight of debris per mile surveyed when compared with other U.S. states.
The EPA grant was announced last fall, and program organizers this year started beach clean-ups where staff and local community science volunteers collect, sort, categorize, and record the trash they find—contributing to regional and statewide trash pollution databases.
These databases will help inform Texas communities on how they can better manage their waste and keep coastal ecosystems clean and bird friendly.
ABC also plans to develop partnerships with local schools, and to participate in community events that educate students and local communities about how they can make a difference in the fight to curb trash pollution.
A long-term goal is to develop best management practices that local municipalities can adopt to reduce debris at particular sites or to address specific types of trash that appear frequently, such as bottles, fishing line, and cigarette butts.