Collaboration and a brief story of the Birth of the NCMDS

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As the creator and coordinator of the North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium, I see myself as part of an awesome team of super rad folks that work together to get things done.  I don’t mean just once a year either – we collaborate throughout the year.  Many of us partner on grants, we have social meet-ups to share ideas and work on solutions, we call each other when we need advice, and we attend each others events and support each other by sharing with our group lists.  For instance, I called up Bonnie Monteleone with UNCW and the Plastic Ocean Project today and was inspired to add an exciting new aspect to the shoreline cleanup project we are planning this year and was able to reach out to a new NCMDS stakeholder in the Dare community who inspired ideas about a new potential statewide program to help with abandoned vessels – hoping we can start on that this year during the NCMDS roundtable session. By collaborating with Dr. Jenna Jambeck of UGA on the NCMDS over the last three years, I had the connection and knowledge to join the crew for eXXpedition 2015, which is sure to change my life completely.

I find the concept of collaboration to be one of the most beneficial of my career.  I am never as productive as I can be with the help of others who share the same passion and energy about a particular issue.  You’ve read this before in my blog, but it deserves repeating – we are all never so full of knowledge that we cannot learn from others.  Together is Better!

The original concept of the NCMDS was to bring folks together that are all working to educate folks about, reduce, prevent, and remove marine debris and has evolved to also include those that might not even know about marine debris in an effort to expand our group knowledge of marine debris and also seek out other ideas that we might have never dreamed of.  As a community we are actually all stakeholders of the NCMDS, because like the first law of ecology – everything is connected and we are impacted in one way or another by marine debris.

This year had it’s ups and downs during the planning phase, as do all events like this one.  Some folks in the group do more than others to be helpful and that is usually based on interest unfortunately, but also time constraints – I can certainly understand that since the majority of my work with NCMDS is done in my sparingly spare time…  There are some key stakeholders that come out of the woodwork and really make it easy to get things done because they just really want to help out and they actually care about the outcome.

Before starting the NCMDS, I would always ponder on why more groups didn’t collaborate on projects.  In just eastern NC we have about 20 or more different groups that coordinate cleanups. Some do roadside cleanups, some focus on the beach, the river, marshy shoreline, and some even do underwater cleanups.  All of this is awesome!  It is totally awesome… but what if we all got together, shared stories, shared ideas, and supported each other?  What if we collaborated?  Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?  I thought so, and others did too, and thus was born the NCMDS back in 2013.

Unknowingly marine debris has become the blood, sweat, and tears of my existence.  I eat, sleep, and nightmare marine debris.  You’ve read me say that I’ve been picking up trash for over 25 years, this is true, but just over the last 11 or more years it has become so clear how important this issue is becoming – more so everyday.  Just recently we were able to see, via the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, video of plankton eating ocean plastic (  This is beyond disturbing and just one more cause for action.

What does action look like though?  Action looks like collaboration.  Whether we like it or not, we cannot do it alone.  Those with an over-inflated ego that think they can are not only wrong, but counter productive.  Action looks like everyone getting together to work on multi-fascists of an issue and that’s what NCMDS looks like.  We have recycle coordinators working on making sure there are enough bins at access points across the State and that we all take the time to “twin the bin” to insure proper disposal and capturing marketable material. We have solid waste professionals who work on infrastructure, availability of proper disposal, litter prevention, and storm debris removal issues among’st a long list of other components. We have divisions of national agencies that solely work on marine debris issues and we have students, plastic researchers, enforcement officers, non-profits, cleanup organizations, other national and state agencies, community officials, local government decision makers, large and small business owners, volunteers, watermen, scuba divers, beach combers, social workers, marine biology majors, and you name them – we have them as a stakeholder.  This is what collaboration looks like – not one, but all.

This year the NCMDS will be in Dare County, Nags Head, NC at Jennette’s Pier, one of my fav places to be.  Our main cleanup project this year will be at the Rodanthe Ferry Docks and we will be working with the entire community to collaborate on the effort.  To learn more about the cleanup and find out how to join us, click on the blue link below or email  I would be thrilled to see you there.  Don’t forget to register for the NCMDS this year by going to

NCMDS 2015 Rodanthe Cleanup

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