Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sharing ideas for inland water restoration with the Ocean Conservancy

Back in January, Paul Nordell from the Minnesota DNR encouraged me to get in touch with several organizations, and let them know about our river restoration strategies. He was an early supporter of our project, and thought others would be interested by our approach, too.

We took Paul's advice, and did hear back from several groups. One of the most fascinating: the Ocean Conservancy. Specifically, I was invited to participate in a conference call with Sonya Besteiro and Katherine Sherman; they were hoping to hear more about our approach to geo-tagging large scale objects and oversized debris fields (aka “Geotrashing”).

Sonya is the Manager, and Kate is the Project Coordinator, for the organizations’ annual International Coastal Cleanup. Every September, volunteers “storm the beaches,” intent on removing trash and debris from coastal areas and waterways. Don’t let the reference to “coastal” fool you… the group boasts “project coordinators” in all fifty states, as well as five U.S. territories. And the word “International” is used with merit: The organization has a presence in 127 countries around the globe... and volunteers in 76 different countries participated in the 2007 cleanup. The effort resulted in the removal of more than 6 million pounds of trash.

One of the challenges (these are my words, not theirs): When all those volunteers show up, you don’t want them wasting time trying to figure out where their help is needed. Instead, you want those volunteers going right to work, removing pollution… not heading off on a scavenger hunt, unsure of where their effort will do the most good. As you can imagine, a successful clean-up involving this many people requires some exhaustive scouting work in advance... and thousands of these events occur simultaneously with each of the annual ICC events!

It was my pleasure to explain how we’ve been using digital photography and GPS tools to inventory the pollution problems here in Minnesota. Deploying this same approach, casual beach-combers, kayakers, boaters or hikers could begin to record where pollution problems exist… and a library could be created, offering the reconnaissance necessary to put the right number of volunteers in the right places to solve the most important problems. Maintaining such a catalog of "debris targets" could make the deployment of manpower more efficient and effective.

It was a delightful and intense conversation; these things happen when passionate people of like minds are focused on problems like ocean and river restoration. Sonya and Kate are remarkable people working for what I’ve come to realize is an amazing organization. I only hope our brainstorming session and subsequent dialogue will be as helpful to them as it was enlightening for me.

One of the wonderful byproducts of our conversation with the Ocean Conservancy is learning of the group’s presence right here in Minnesota. Sarah Erickson is the Director of Education at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth… and she is also the project coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup here in the land of lakes. I’ve already had one brief email exchange with Sarah, and know she’ll be a great resource.

Julie and I feel privileged to share ideas with folks like Sarah, Katherine and Sonya. As we indicated in a recent posting at, inland behaviors can have a profound impact on estuaries and oceans which wait far downstream. Gradually, we hope to grow our body of knowledge about the relationship between inland waters and the saltwater seas they're flowing into... at a site which serves as a companion to this blog, called

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

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