Behind the Scenes on One Mile Creek
by Ellie Mallon, Patrol & Monitoring AmeriCorps Member
Beginning in September 2017, Mobile Baykeeper embarked on a two-year, multi-phase project to help Mobile move toward a litter-free Mardi Gras thanks to a $56,000 grant received through the NOAA Marine Debris Program. One of the main components is restoring One Mile Creek, a historic waterway located near downtown that receives a significant amount of litter from Mardi Gras parades.
Why One Mile Creek?
Above: The images show the stark contrast between the neglected areas of One Mile Creek (to the left) and beautiful natural areas of One Mile Creek and its confluence with Three Mile Creek.
One Mile Creek was selected for the project based on its location and need. With its headwaters located at Lawrence Street, One Mile Creek receives all the urban stormwater trash from downtown. As you can imagine, the amount of trash in downtown Mobile nearly triples during our beloved Mardi Gras season. While the City does a great job cleaning the streets after parades, trash, including beads and throws, still finds its way to the storm drains and eventually One Mile Creek. Years of neglect and Mardi Gras celebrations have left the creek covered with litter. However, it is Mobile Baykeeper’s goal to significantly reduce the amount of trash and restore the creek to its natural beauty.
How It Works
The first phase of the project involved developing a way to track our progress on the creek throughout the campaign. To do this, we adopted an Urban Rapid Trash Assessment (URTA) protocol and clean up plan for One Mile Creek.
“What exactly is URTA?” - you might be asking. Initially developed in the San Francisco Bay Area, the main point of URTA is to create a system that determines the accumulation rate of trash for a given body of water. It also allows us to see what types of trash are floating in the creek.
The basic technique involves inspecting a 100-foot strip of land parallel to the stream. During the inspection, numerical values are given to questions regarding the amount and type of trash that is seen upon first glance. The score for each question is then added together to give the final URTA score. The second step is to then walk the designated area and pick up all items of trash that are visible and record the different items found. So far, we have completed 6 URTA inspections and collected over 1,700 items of trash. In summary, following the URTA process shows us exactly how much of an impact we are making in our efforts to restore this waterway.
Our Progress So Far
Looking first at the trash tally data, it is clear that plastic materials are the most common item found on the stream bank and in the water. The graph below shows the total breakdown from the litter collections in 2017. Of the roughly 1,700 items, 1,586 were plastics. For reference, that's about 16 trash bags full of nothing but plastic.
Within the plastic category, we have broken down collection into seven main sub categories in our URTA protocol. As you can see in the graph above, Styrofoam is the biggest contributor to this group with 41% and 628 pieces collected. The other information we can gather from our URTA monitoring is the accumulation rate of trash within the stream. For instance, in our 100-foot length of collection, we found an accumulation rate of 187 pieces per month over a four-month period. Calculating the rate of accumulation for all four miles of the stream, it comes out to be 12,038 pieces of trash or 120 full trash bags for the entire stream.
Why This Matters
So why is any of this data important? Well for starters, it gives us a numerical way to measure exactly how much of an impact we are making in our efforts to restore this waterway. Ideally, the rate of accumulation goes down as more people are made aware that beads, plastics, and other items left on the ground are headed into a creek! The URTA assessment will also give us a way to see the direct effect of Mardi Gras litter on the creek. Thus far, we have seen a significant decrease in the amount of litter we have found since we began the project, but this weekend we will see firsthand how Mardi Gras impacts this historic waterway.
Make a Difference
Feeling extra motivated to make an impact now? Join us this Saturday February 24 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for our Post-Mardi Gras Cleanup on One Mile Creek. Together, we can restore One Mile Creek and help Mobile move toward a litter-free Mardi Gras.