I started a new position as a sustainability and conservation scientist at Boeing, leading employee engagement and empowerment at the Everett Facility in Washington State. In my role I have the opportunity to implement sustainability and conservation strategies in the largest building in the world (! by volume) and work with 35,000 employees. While this is a big shift for my career and away from research, I am really enjoying the opportunity to instill change for the environment and work with a large company to “move the needle” as they say in the corporate world.
Author: Lyda Harris
NOAA Marine Debris Prevention Grant AWARDED
I am THRILLED to share that our marine debris prevention project at the Vermilion Sea Institute in Bahia de los Angeles was funded by NOAA: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration!
I am a co-PI on the NOAA Marine Debris Prevention Grant “Aventureros Averting Plastics for a Better Baja” with the Vermilion Sea Institute in Bahia de los Angeles, Baja Mexico. This project, driven by youth leadership, will take significant steps toward preventing debris from entering the Bahía de los Ángeles Biosphere Reserve in the Gulf of California. The youth, who participate in an environmental education and action program through Vermilion Sea Institute called Aventureros, will be the drivers for each aspect of the project. The purpose of this approach, both in the program generally and in this project, is to develop a generation of environmental change makers on the Baja Peninsula and to ensure that the community of Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico is well-prepared to prevent marine debris for decades to come.
The town of Bahía de los Ángeles is located within Baja California, Mexico, along the Gulf of California. While the local population of Bahía de los Ángeles is relatively small, this rural fishing town experiences consistent heavy tourism due to its year round warm weather and designation as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Marine World Heritage Site. The town’s waters are home to whale sharks, sea turtles, and numerous other keystone organisms. This influx of people, the need for more sustainable waste prevention and disposal options, and an increase in recent extreme weather events has resulted in significant quantities of waste in the water, on local beaches and wetlands. Increased marine debris ultimately impacts the marine ecosystem and human community subsistence and wellbeing.
The project first approaches the marine debris issue by cleaning the community through conducting monthly beach debris surveys, community beach cleans, compacting trash to prevent dispersal across the landscape, and diverting plastics to be ground, pressed and up-cycled into forms that can be used for sustainable construction projects. Second, the project seeks to address one source of debris, takeout containers from local restaurants. This initiative will engage with community members and businesses through recruiting and subsidizing restaurants to use low-impact takeout containers. Third, through education (both formal and informal) the project will seek input and direction from the Aventureros on the importance of marine debris and how the community should approach the issue. Finally, the project aims to empower youth to be stewards of their community and environment. The Aventureros will lead beach surveys and cleans, speak to restaurants about sustainable take-out containers, and help guide their own education based on the needs they have identified within their community.
Each of the activities listed above will be planned, advertised, and implemented by Aventureros youth, with appropriate support from Vermilion Sea Institute staff and adult volunteers. With marine ecosystems around the world being intrinsically linked, the health of the Gulf of California inevitably affects nutrient cycling, populations of large migratory predators (ie, transient orcas, sharks or larger fish), behavioral patterns of mid-to-small-sized species avoiding migratory predators, and the general stability of marine food webs.
Residents of Bahía de los Ángeles are already familiar with the mission and passion of the Aventureros youth, and this project promises to raise the youth into the unquestioned environmental influencers for this town and critically important marine ecosystem.
Women in Fisheries Science and Conservation
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on a panel of women in fisheries science and ocean conservation in the fall hosted by Oceana. The event spanned multiple professions and interests and was broadcast across several platforms, both live and recorded.
7th International Marine Debris Conference
This September I travelled to the Republic of Korea to attend the 7th International Marine Debris Conference and present research on innovative approaches to assessing plastics and bioplastics in marine environments.
This was my first time in Korea, so I took some extra time before the conference to explore Seoul and Jeonju before heading to Busan for the event. For anyone who hasn’t been, add Korea to the TOP of your list! It is a beautiful country with amazing food, kind people, and excellent public transportation. I am already planning my trip back!
I had been looking forward to this conference for the past 4 years, since the 6th IMDC in San Diego, USA. The conference was large and a little overwhelming at first – how could I choose which talks to attend? They all sounded amazing. This is the first conference I have been to where I found myself hard pressed to decide between sessions because I wanted to listen and absorb all of the information available. I felt like I finally found my people after years of attending more ecology-focused conferences.
I am so lucky to have met and connected with people from around the world who share a similar interest in mitigating and preventing marine debris. I cant wait till next time.
Geek Wire: Gut Check
Writer Lisa Stiffler watched the initial deployment of the TOM FORD Plastic Innovation Prize back in April then came to visit again during the 4month sampling point a few weeks ago. It was a pleasure to speak with her and describe the neat science going on at the Seattle Aquarium. Lisa recently published an article on Geek Wire about the prize and the Aquarium– check it out!
I recently had the pleasure to speak with Kelly Koopmans at KOMO news about marine microplastics and other debris in the Salish Sea/Puget Sound region. Kelly visited the Seattle Aquarium, spending a few hours in the lab asking questions and getting to see the research happen.
KCTS Human Elements
I had an absolute blast filming KCTS Human Elements S2 E6: The plastics in everything with KCTS and Crosscut. The episode aired March 31, 2022 and is available online here. This was my first filmed interview and I am absolutely stoked with how well it turned out. Plastic pollution can be a depressing field of study, however, it is vital to communicate how dire the situation is. The team at Crosscut did a phenomenal job realistically portraying me and the field I study while also managing to film beautiful plastic pollution shots.
KNKX Public Radio
I had the pleasure to discuss my microplastics research with Bellamy Pailthorp at KNKX Public Radio. The episode aired Feb 7th 20222 and I got to hear it while driving down Baja Mexico– A truly unique experience! Take a listen here.
The final chapter of my dissertation, “Spatial–Temporal Growth, Distribution, and Diffusion of Marine Microplastic Research and National Plastic Policies,” was published in Water, Air, and Soil Pollution! This chapter was the result of a pivot during the last year of my PhD– when campus and all associated facilities shut down due to Covid-19, I was forced to put lab work on the back burner and was instead given the “opportunity” to embrace a side project as my final dissertation chapter. I completed a concentration in Public Policy and Management at the Evens School of Public Policy at UW, providing a backbone to this idea. While the paper itself does not answer all of the questions (but what paper does?) it provides insight to how incredible FAST the scientific field of marine microplastics is growing and how its growth differs from national plastic policies. Working with a massive dataset and seemingly endless questions, our results are nuanced and invite further examination.
The best part of this publication was working with an amazing team of undergraduates during data acquisition and wrangling. One particular student, Jackson Fennell, used his GIS skills to create maps and hotspot analyses. This is his FIRST academic publication and I am so proud. What an accomplishment to have undergrad work in a peer-reviewed journal!
For those interested, you can read the publication here.
The first publication of my job at the Aquarium as well as their first microplastic research paper is out now! An exciting story of long-term monitoring, unexpected results, and a surprising impact of Covid-19! This article was written by all women(!!!!) at different career stages including: volunteer, lab technician, master’s student, PhD student, academic faculty, and long-term conservation researcher.
Interested? Read more here! The article is open access and we hope everyone has an opportunity to (at least) skim it.
The publication garnered some attention from the journal and SETAC Globe highlighted our research in their publication spotlight. The piece interviews me and highlights our volunteer program– read it here!
Additionally, the I wrote a blog post for the Seattle Aquarium highlighting the study and interesting things we took away from our findings. Read more about that here!
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