[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Reviewing the Marine Debris Tracker app


Screen Capture: Marine Debris Tracker on YouTube

Kathryn Youngblood, a research engineer that worked on the app development, explains how citizen participation works within the app.

Citizen science is research conducted by the public. Now, you can aid the fight against plastic pollution by researching it yourself. The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, also known as the Mayors of the Mississippi River, partnered with the United Nations Environment Program, the National Geographic Society, and the University of Georgia to create an accessible way for the general public to battle plastic pollution by gathering data along the Mississippi River. It’s simple. Download the Marine Debris Tracker app, go for a walk along the river, and log trash as you pick it up.

The official collection for the initiative only lasted from Apr. 1 through Apr. 25, but the app continues to stand as a global data collector for plastic pollution. The organizations that were a part of the initiative will continue to use the data collected in the specific sites, which were St. Paul, MN, St. Louis, MO, and Baton Rouge, LA.

The Mississippi River is a drainage system for 40% of the continental United States. More than 50 cities depend on the river for drinking water, approximately 20 million people. Plastic pollution harms the ecosystems that hundreds of species live in, and the quality of the drinking water that supplies America. It will all eventually make its way through the Gulf of Mexico and into the ocean, contributing to the 8 million tons of plastic that enter oceans every year. The data collected through the Marine Debris Tracker will aid the organizations in developing a baseline level for future policy action.

So how do you collect data for plastic pollution?
1. Download the Marine Debris Tracker app.
2. The app will prompt you to enable it to access your location to connect your data tracked with a geographical location.
3. Click select an organization and select “MRCTI.” There’s a number of different organizations to choose from, but MRCTI will connect your data to the initiative.
4. All data collected within the Mississippi River basin will be used, but there’s a certain protocol to follow for the most accurate collection. Focus your efforts in the three sampling locations near the river: St. Paul, MN, St. Louis, MO, or Baton Rouge, LA. Find a 3-foot wide pathway such as the side of a road, a sidewalk, or a trail. Follow the path for 30 minutes, picking up any trash that you find.
5. Use the app to record the items on your walk. Select the type of litter, and click “add.” You can also add photos of the trash, but the app does not require you to do so to submit the data.
6. Once your walk is completed, click “upload session” and wait for a checkmark signaling that it has successfully saved.

Creating a policy to fight plastic pollution is now in the hands of citizens. There must be current numbers on how much pollution there is so scientists can determine how much pollution there can be. The ability for citizens to create and change future environmental policies is now in an app, on their phones, in their pockets.

Rating: ★★★★★