Nurdle Discovery in Tampa Bay Sparks Local Patrol Efforts

When Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve director Jace Tunnell started a citizen science project in 2018 called "Nurdle Patrol", he enlisted citizens to scour the shorelines of the Gulf of Mexico for small plastic pellets, also known as "nurdles". The goal of the Nurdle Patrol is to collect as much data as possible to better understand how plastic pollution spreads and address the pollution at its source. Although thousands have been collected across the Texas Gulf coast, it wasn’t until this April that the first nurdles were documented in Florida. Maya Burke, TBEP Science Policy Coordinator, discovered two nurdles on a beach near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Since then, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program has been encouraging local citizens to join the Nurdle Patrol Facebook group where they can easily report findings from visits to local beaches. The discovery has also sparked an important conversation about how these plastic pellets got here and what they mean for the Gulf ecosystem.

Compared to the thousands of plastic pellets documented along the Texas coast, the presence of a few nurdles in the Tampa Bay region seems minor. However, Burke still encourages local residents to spend 10 minutes at the beach searching for these tiny plastics. "Even if you don't find any nurdles, that data is valuable!" She calls nurdles "charismatic macroplastics" and is hopeful that they help to raise awareness about other plastic pollution in Tampa Bay. Should you decide to embark on your own 10-minute patrol, any data you collect can be shared on the Nurdle Patrol Facebook page and on other resources like NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker App (available in the app store). Citizen science efforts like this one is a fun and easy way to make a difference for Tampa Bay.

Interested readers are invited to participate in the effort by searching for the Nurdle Patrol group on Facebook and watching the quick training video.