Courtesy of Theresa Talley

A New $298,000 Grant Will Help Engage Underserved Communities in Efforts to Reduce Marine Debris Pollution

Vulnerable communities are often impacted the most by trash that can become marine debris
Clare Leschin-Hoar

Over the last 15 years, California’s Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy (OLS) has made significant strides in addressing the problem of marine debris in the state. California is home to nearly 300 state and local laws restricting the sale or use of plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene food packaging. We’re also home to California Coastal Cleanup Day, the largest cleanup event in the nation.

While community engagement has been high overall, the state’s vulnerable underserved communities and California’s tribes have been noticeably missing from the conversation, especially in Los Angeles, which shoulders a high pollution burden.

“Historically, a lot of work done in this space hasn’t included these underserved communities, which are the places that are often impacted the most by trash that can become marine debris,” says Tanya Torres, California Sea Grant marine debris research associate.

With nearly $300,000 in new funding, California Sea Grant and USC Sea Grant — along with the California Ocean Protection Council and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program — are hoping to change that. The funding comes from a competitive award from NOAA Sea Grant that was supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and leveraged funds from the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“These groups have insight and perspective that’s been missing, but this dedicated funding will help bring their needs into the conversation and provide financial and technical support to help address trash and plastic pollution in these overburdened communities,” says Torres.

The new grant will be used to identify, engage and assess the needs of local communities missing from the OLS program, with an eye on six specific goals: source reduction; changes in product design; waste management and land-based interventions; research; behavior change; and ocean-based debris prevention and clean-up.

“Plastic pollution is a major issue for all urban coasts and communities, but particularly for Los Angeles,” says Amalia Almada, University of Southern California Sea Grant Program science, research and policy specialist. “We’re excited this funding directly supports vulnerable communities grappling with plastic waste in this region.”

In the Los Angeles region alone, 81 water bodies are listed as impaired by trash under the Clean Water Act, says California Sea Grant Extension Specialist Theresa Talley. “Those waterways run through census tracts identified as low-income and disadvantaged communities. The key to success in addressing trash pollution and marine debris includes working together with these communities.”

NOAA provides funding to Sea Grant institutions to increase the understanding, assessment, development, management, utilization, and conservation of the nation’s ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. NOAA provides assistance to promote a strong educational base, responsive research and training activities, broad and prompt dissemination of knowledge and techniques, and multidisciplinary approaches to environmental problems in accordance with 33 USC 1121(b).


About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Headquartered at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, California Sea Grant is one of 34 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.