Mapping Out a Partnership to Clean Great Bay

Kyle Belmont's picture

When the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) first heard about the tires, barrels, and other trash along Great Bay’s shoreline in the fall of 2015, they knew clean-up efforts would take time — and lots of collaboration.

 “It seemed like a perfect fit for us — we do a lot of convening of partners,” says Abigail Lyon, PREP’s technical assistance program manager.

Cleaning up Great Bay was no simple task, and it took the combined efforts of almost a dozen organizations and an army of volunteers to make it happen. The collaboration started in 2015, when the Great Bay Gunners hunting group informed PREP about the abundant debris in Great Bay. PREP reached out to The Stewardship Network New England (TSSNE) for help determining the scope of the problem.

“The Gunners say there’s trash, but how do we find out where it is and make it a decent cleanup effort?” says Emily Lord, TSSNE’s stewardship outreach coordinator.

They devised a two-pronged method to help clean up New Hampshire’s largest estuary. First, they would establish an opportunity for citizen scientists to geolocate trash. Second, they would organize volunteer workdays to gather up the trash mapped out from the citizen scientists. These methods needed some deeper expertise, and they called in the help of Shane Bradt, UNH Cooperative Extension specialist for geospatial technologies.

“Mapping was the key to assessing the situation,” says Bradt. “Mapping gets volunteers actively engaged in both scouting and planning.”

Starting in April of 2016, citizen scientist volunteers spent six weeks using kayaks and boats to locate trash along the 100-plus miles of shoreline. Using an app called Track-Kit, the volunteers marked the location of trash on a digital map and uploaded pictures of the litter. PREP, TSSNE, and volunteers used the images to plan how to pick up debris and identify obstacles. The estuary’s rocky coast, drastic tidal changes, and wildlife all presented challenges.

“While mapping the trash,” Lord says, “we discovered that we couldn’t go onto the marsh where saltmarsh sparrows were nesting.” To prevent upsetting this species and its dwindling population, the groups scheduled a clean-up in the fall, when the sparrows would not be nesting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of New Hampshire, and local landowners made other parts of the estuary not usually open to the public, including the Great Bay Wildlife Refuge available to volunteers cleaning up debris.

Why was there so much trash? “In the Piscataqua region watershed, it’s the lowest point,” Lyon says of Great Bay. “It’s easy for debris to get stuck in there.” With seven major tributaries, the opportunity for trash to flow into the Great Bay is a continual risk. Moving forward, PREP and TSSNE hope to hold another volunteer workday to gather more debris on Great Bay during the International Coastal Cleanup this fall.

Click here to view the story map detailing this partnership presented at the 2017 Beach conference.

To learn how to create your own storymap, or how to use geospatial technology in your own projects, check out the upcoming course schedule.