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USC Sea Grant Receives Over $1.5 for Microplastic Ocean Debris Prevention


June, 2023

The University of Southern California (USC) Sea Grant Program has received over $1.5 million of funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for two major projects addressing the issue of marine debris in Southern California.

Roger Sutherland, noted sweeper researcher and tester, along with Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor of, will consult on how street sweeping might best be used for pavement-based debris removal – especially microplastics – prior to runoff as pollutants.

The first project is a joint effort between USC Sea Grant and the City of Santa Barbara, for which they have been awarded $1.26 million to provide the first measured and reported results on the impacts of street sweeping and trash capture devices on microplastic marine debris in stormwater runoff, which transports the bulk of terrestrial microplastic to the sea.

The project aims to intercept microplastic between deposition on street surfaces and discharge into the ocean. A collaboration including the foremost experts in microplastic research, municipal end-users, and street-sweeping industry experts will address these critical data gaps to capture microplastics at a large scale. Fieldwork will take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara, and the Los Angeles area in California, and findings will be applicable nationally.

"We are incredibly excited to work with USC Sea Grant and our research partners," says Jill Murray, the City of Santa Barbara's Project Lead and Creeks Water Quality Analyst. "This project will determine how to remove microplastics from impervious urban surfaces to the greatest extent possible, as soon as possible, from as many acres as possible, in order to protect streams, estuaries, and oceans from harmful pollution."

"Power sweeping has been shown conclusively to be by far the best BMP for removal of pavement-based nitrogen and phosphorus from the runoff stream. I'm excited that Roger Sutherland and I will now be involved in developing and quantifying the BMP protocol for power sweeping's removal of microplastics along with other pollutants," said Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor of

For the second project, USC Sea Grant will partner with California Sea Grant on an award of $300,000 to develop solutions to litter pollution in California that address the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Accessibility focus of the California Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy. This project aims to increase the involvement of groups who have been largely missing from marine debris conversations and actions thus far, including traditionally underserved community-based groups and California Tribes. Specifically, this project will engage and identify the needs of local communities and establish a coalition to inform coordinated investments in community-based marine debris solutions.

"Plastic pollution is a major issue for all urban coasts and communities, but particularly for Los Angeles," says Amalia Aruda Almada, USC Sea Grant Program Extension Specialist. "We're thrilled that this funding directly supports vulnerable Los Angeles communities grappling with plastic waste."

This funding is part of a larger $27 million funding effort by NOAA to address the prevention and removal of debris in marine and Great Lakes environments throughout the U.S. USC Sea Grant's two projects are among 29 competitively selected through two opportunities supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and leveraging funds from the Inflation Reduction Act: The Marine Debris Challenge Competition and The Marine Debris Community Action Coalitions.

Using Sea Grant's partnered approach to bring science together with communities for effective solutions, the projects will support transformational research and the creation of local coalitions to address urgent marine debris prevention and removal needs. All projects are designed to support the principles of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility as work is performed over the next three years.

"Marine debris and microplastics are a significant threat to coastal ecosystems," says Karla Heidelberg, Director of USC Sea Grant. "This form of pollution can injure or kill marine and coastal wildlife, cause direct economic loss to fishing and maritime industries, and threaten human health and safety. USC Sea Grant is pleased to take an important role in evaluating this issue and helping to determine solutions for multiple coastal communities across Southern California."

Learn more about marine debris and Sea Grant's work in its removal and prevention. This work is a component of nearly $3 billion in targeted investments for NOAA in the areas of habitat restoration, coastal resilience and weather forecasting infrastructure through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help America build resilience to climate change. The projects announced today represent Sea Grant's initial efforts to support marine debris prevention and removal over the next five years through this legislation. # # #

About USC Sea Grant

USC Sea Grant's mission is to contribute to solving the problems of the Urban Ocean, while recognizing the opportunities for coastal commerce, recreation, and improving the quality of life in coastal regions such as Southern California. Our program is based at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. We are one of 34 programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant Program.

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