NewsProtecting Paradise


Tracking trash: Palm Beach Atlantic students, researchers use drift cards to detect where plastics may end up in the ocean

Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 20:23:34-04

PALM BEACH, FL — Local researchers and students from Palm Beach Atlantic University are setting out to help clean up our ocean by tracking where trash goes.

Monday, a group scattered 250 drift cards, which represent trash, into the ocean about a mile and a half offshore from the Palm Beach Inlet. They hope people will find them in the coming days, weeks, or months before they disintegrate.

Associate Professor Linda Sedlacek said the cards were scattered in an area popular for anchoring near the shore. They want to see the potential path for litter from boaters.

“This was prompted by the Friends of the Palm Beaches. They approached us a couple of years ago. They’ve had an increase in the amount of plastic waste that’s been washing up on our beaches, including medical waste,” Sedlacek said. "So, a good way for us to figure out how to prevent it from coming is to figure out where it’s coming from. So, this is just one little piece of the puzzle to see if it’s coming from these mooring stations,” Sedlacek said.

The drift cards are made of biodegradable marine plywood, according to Sedlacek. The group also placed one GPS drifter in the ocean to see where it will end up. It can be tracked every hour.

Data from drift cards relies on people finding the cards and calling or emailing a contact number printed on the card to let researchers know where it ended up. Their small size and lightweight mimics some of the plastic waste coming ashore.

“This is about the best way you can look at currents for this type of material. You can look at a map with currents and see where the bulk of the material goes. But that’s where the water is moving, but the beach material is floating right along the surface, so it’s influenced by winds a lot as well. That is something that you’re not going to pick up from a currents map,” Sedlacek said.

Sedlacek said there are reports of more medical waste coming ashore in the Palm Beach area. “They’re getting like 15-20 items per week right now.”

Of the 250 cards scattered Monday, Sedlacek expects about 3% will be recovered. “That’s why we put so many out.”

Sedlacek said they are also dispersing drift cards this weekend in Fort Lauderdale.