Science, Conservation, and Hope

Posted: October 22, 2020

CRYSTAL COVE⁠ - Undergraduate students taking science courses (biology, earth science, and environmental science) normally take part in a scientific method field trip experience each semester. This year, because of COVID-19, the regularly scheduled field trips were cancelled. In their stead, Professor Karen McReynolds partnered with A Rocha for a safe, physically-distanced, hands-on, science field trip.

The students met at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County to determine quantities of plastic waste and nurdles at the beach. Each volunteer scoured several 10-meter plots covering about a kilometer of beach. In a 3-hour span, they collected 2,419 nurdles.

Nurdles (plastic pellets) are the raw stock that is melted at factories and formed into various plastic items. Nurdles are spilled during transport or at the factories and some eventually enter streams and oceans via runoff or storm drains. They absorb human-made toxic chemicals while in the ocean.

These pellets have been found in large numbers on Orange County beaches as well as in sediment off the southern California coast. Since they are quite small -- often 1-2mm in diameter -- nurdles generally go unnoticed by people, but are eaten by both fish and birds because they look like fish eggs.

“This project was a good way for students to learn and apply the scientific method. We talk about the process of making observations, forming a hypothesis, and then testing that hypothesis,” reported McReynolds. “It’s a great opportunity for teaching environmental science, earth science, and biology, as students learn firsthand about organisms and how they are impacted by the ecosystems in which they live.”

A Rocha is a Christian-based non-profit organization whose mission is to restore both people and places through collaborative, community-based conservation. Two of these A Rocha beach plastic surveys have been completed at Crystal Cove in partnership with HIU, collecting 8,472 nurdles. The two organizations will be coordinating a more extensive research project this winter to find out if the plastic pollution problem at our local beaches is getting better or worse.


For any questions or to volunteer contact Professor Karen McReynolds.