What are “nurdles”?
We are all aware of the overwhelming amount of plastic that pollutes our oceans and beaches. Not only are large plastic materials littered in our oceans, but the pre-production plastic pellets, called nurdles, cover our beaches worldwide. Nurdle pollution seems to receive a small amount of attention compared to larger plastic issues. We can only see the level of pollution when the tide washes the pellets onto the sand, and we have to assume there are more pellets that don’t. Although both are harmful, nurdles are dangerous to marine life because large plastic such as bottles take years to break down, accumulating additional ocean acidification, whereas these pellets are small enough at disposal to be immediately consumed and in turn effect our seafood in animals that have ingested these plastics.
“It’s estimated as much as 250,000 tons of nurdles enter the ocean each year.” (CBS, p.1, 2019)
Nurdles can get lost during original manufacturing, shipping, and during molding of the final plastic product, just to name a few common occurrences. If these losses and spills are not cleaned up properly, the pellets end up in drains, waterways and eventually harming our oceans. “We can tell based on the colors, the period of time they’ve been out in the sun … this has been happening over many decades,” Tunnell said. (CBS, p.1, 2019).
These pellets absorb toxins such as PCBs and PAHs and is concerning due to the long list of species that are ingesting these plastic pellets because they mistake them for food, which end up in our food chain. For instance, autopsies of dead puffins from the Isle of May in Scotland confirm that along with their regular diet, these birds had been eating nurdles (Rakowski, p.1, 2015).
Nurdle Patrol is an organized citizen’s science project that was started by Jace Tunnell with the initiative to figure out where these plastic pellets were originating from after a disastrous spill near Corpus Christi, Texas in 2018. 10-minute surveys along the high tide line are performed by volunteers and the nurdle count data is entered into a database on Nurdle Patrol’s website. After the data is entered, a map will pull up all other data collected around the country, ultimately showing where the highest concentration of Nurdles are being washed up (Nurdle Patrol, p.1, 2019). So, pack up some beach items and take 10 minutes to help rid our beaches of nurdles at your local beach. Use your cellphone to upload your data, it is that simple!
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Sources and further readings:
CBS News-250,000 Tons Of Plastic Pellets Known As Nurdles Pollute Our Oceans Every Year, 2019
Sarah Rakowski-Scottish Puffins Found with Plastic Pellets in Their Stomachs, 2015
Nurdle Patrol-Yes Nurdle, No Nurdle, 2019