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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

URI Plastics: Land to Sea public seminar to explore ‘Marine Debris with Purpose’

Laura Ludwig of Center for Coastal Studies to visit URI March 7

By Hugh Markey.

The URI Plastics: Land to Sea research initiative aims
 to accelerate the implementation of long-term solutions
to reduce plastics pollution by aligning resources,
interdisciplinary academic strengths and partners at
the local and global levels. (URI Photo/Jason Jaacks)
The University of Rhode Island’s Plastics: Land to Sea initiative will host Laura Ludwig, director of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, as part of its “Empowering Plastics Solutions” series of public seminars focused on finding solutions to plastic pollution.

Ludwig will explore “Marine Debris with Purpose” in her lecture on Thursday, March 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Higgins Welcome Center, 45 Upper College Road, Kingston. The seminar is free and open to the public, with an online option. Registration is required.

At the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Ludwig focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to investigate and respond to abandoned, lost, discarded and end-of-life fishing gear, beach debris, microplastics, and other marine plastic waste.

“With the series, we’re bringing in speakers that faculty and stakeholders can engage with in a different way than they usually would,” said Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, director of the URI Plastics initiative, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and associate dean for research for the College of Engineering. 

“Our participants may not always be researchers in STEM disciplines or social sciences; they may also be artists, historians, or journalists. We’re presenting speakers who will help us to expand the reach of the research that we’re doing here at URI to address societal challenges.” 

Fishing gear, most of which is made from plastic, can be lost, abandoned or discarded, and the resulting debris litters the sea, breaking down into smaller pieces and adding to the problems created by plastics and microplastics. 

Ludwig will discuss the impacts, removal, and repurposing of plastic marine debris, and share stories of innovative partnerships with artists who have used the materials to create beautiful works of art to bring awareness to the issue. 

With the plastics initiative, URI is focusing on expanding knowledge about plastics pollution, aiming to find answers to a global problem, said Oyanedel-Craver. “Rhode Island, its people, environment and ocean are being impacted negatively by plastic pollution,” she added. 

“So, we want to make sure that the research that we’re doing at URI is helping to address behavior, provide alternative solutions and solve this with collaborative approaches.”

In her work, Ludwig has focused on sea fishing gear removal and recycling programs in Maine and Massachusetts since 2009, partnering with hundreds of fishermen to properly dispose of thousands of lost, abandoned, or discarded lobster traps and more than 90 tons of fishing gear debris, including fixed, mobile and aquaculture gear recovered from the ocean floor. 

Since starting the Marine Debris and Plastics Program in 2012, she has grown a 400-person volunteer “Beach Brigade” that supports a year-round cleanup and debris data collection effort on Cape Cod.

During her visit, Ludwig will also meet with faculty, students, and other collaborators including representatives from the state such as the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation. She will also visit the Port of Galilee to see operations and gather ideas about ways to deal with local plastics.

Oyanedel-Craver stated the University plays a vital role in contributing to solutions to the plastics problems.

“URI has such a wealth of plastics expertise across numerous disciplines,” she said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to the work we are doing at URI, find collaborators, and provide solutions. Bringing Laura Ludwig along with our other seminar speakers to Rhode Island really helps to expand the reach that we have here and catalyze our efforts.”