Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 Kelsey - The End of Things

As my internship came to a close last week, one thing was clear: I had learned way more than I could have ever thought of. Working for UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant created a unique opportunity to experience the nuances of scientific research with a community outreach goal.

As I've mentioned before, earlier in the summer there was a small luncheon for the interns, their supervisors, and other UNHCE and NH Sea Grant staff. At this meeting, I was able to witness first-hand the considerations that must be made to include the coastal community's public in the implementation of coastal programs. Everything from volunteer retention to effective communication with local businesses to the best research protocol was addressed throughout the meeting.

My project was no less interdisciplinary. Often, tourists and other beach visitors would ask us questions while we would be out sampling. Most, after we told them, would go back to their business. Some, however, became very engaged. They were surprised to learn that cigarette filters are actually made of plastic. They told us of different beach disposal programs, including one beach that provides cigarette cones as a form of ashtray for beach goers. They ensured they would pick up their own litter.

The public's curious response to our sampling led Gabby and I to create a poster that may be distributed to the beaches along the NH coast. We wanted to provide a fun, easy-to-read poster that explains to beach visitors what we had been spending our summer studying. Each beach that we sampled has its own, specific micro-plastic data. We even included a picture flowchart showing exactly what happens to plastic litter. What started as a strict protocol development project quickly and easily evolved into an opportunity for outreach. This seems to be the nature of working with UNHCE and NH Sea Grant; projects grow and develop as the community's needs becomes more apparent.

There are, of course, many small tidbits of knowledge that Gabby and the other UNHCE and Sea Grant staff have imparted on me. I'm truly looking forward to being able to use those in my own future working on the coasts.

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