Baton Rouge

Thursday started out with a scoop of trash from the Carlotta Street boom in Baton Rouge.

Our local collaborator, Mark Benfield, of LSU, took us around to the drainage canals in Baton Rouge to see the trash booms that collect floating trash in the canals. The first one we went to was being emptied and we arrived just in time to capture the process. Just looking at it, we saw a lot of foam cups, bottles, and a few random soccer and footballs. The trash from the trap was to be sorted by some very dedicated LSU students a few days later.

Mark Benfield, Professor of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences at LSU capturing drone images of boom trash collection.

The trash traps work to capture some of the trash, as can be seen by the collection of trash in them. However, if they are not emptied, the trash escapes through them to move on downstream. The canals drain, not to the Mississippi River directly, but to Lake Pontchartrain, to eventually potentially reach the Gulf of Mexico that way. Mark Benfield is flying drones over the booms to capture data on what and how much is there over time.

On Friday we participated in a cleanup and data collection event at Southern University. Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), is just north of the refinery in Baton Rouge. The group organizing the event, the 771 Alliance, is working on plastic pollution. Charles Barjon II, the lead coordinator, also was on the Environmental Justice panel discussion as a part of our training webinars. The campus was lovely and looked really clean and beautiful. But we still found some litter near an interior lake that was close to the dining hall. And then overlooking the bluff to the Mississippi River, we found a stormwater drainage outfall that led directly to the river. This area contained a lot of trash moving from the parking lots to the river. We found many foam and plastic to-go containers, as well as bottles, bags and food wrappers. We filled a couple bags up during the cleanup. And the 771 Alliance has continued to conduct and collect data during cleanups for the entire time of the MRPPI. For more perspective from the 771 Alliance, see their podcast episodes here and on YouTube.

The bluff overlooking the Mississippi River at Southern University – overall beautiful! But some litter was found in drainage areas in the bank.

Saturday April 10th was a big day – the official first pilot site launch of the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative! Mayor Broome of Baton Rouge was announcing the launch of their city-wide initiative, while our youngest son was having his Golden Birthday. I attended and gave a small speech at the launch event, which took place on a barge at the docks hosted by Shamrock Marine. The launch event went well and there was high interest in our pilot bottle tags besides the data collection with Debris Tracker. Mayor Broome is amazing –  so personable and very dedicated to this work. While some partners went on a boat to observe the situation from the water, she decided to go to greet the LSU students sorting the trash collected from the boom. The students were painstakingly taking each item from the boom and photographing it to be able to quantify and characterize them when they had more time to go through the photos. This will provide complimentary information to both the LSU data collected by drone, and the data collected with Debris Tracker.

Everyone in our family was really tired that evening – it had been several days of work and a lot to take in and process (besides the getting used to seeing people outside of our house every day). But we were able to get our new 10 year old out for pizza and get some cake and ice cream to have back at the cramper. Milestone days don’t stop for expeditions – you need to celebrate them wherever you are.

Sunday, after a morning bike ride on the levee to collect more litter-transect data, it was time to pack up the cramper and leave for Natchez, Mississippi and Vidalia, Louisiana, our next stop on the expedition. Baton Rouge is such a beautiful place with incredible people, and we hope that the data collected for this Initiative can empower the community to take the action they think is best to address plastic pollution.

These blog posts are from my family’s journey along the main stem of the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Minnesota for the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative. Started by MRCTI and UN Environment Programme – North America, along with National Geographic Society and us at the University of Georgia College of Engineering, using open data, citizen science-based Debris Tracker. Find out how you can join in and help.

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