The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium awarded $2,619,856 to University of South Carolina’s (USC) Bill Strosnider, Ph.D., director of the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory, for the project “From Blue-Gray to Blue-Green: Facilitating the Transition to Non-Plastic, Natural Material Use Within the Coastal Zone Economy.” This three-year project, funded by the National Sea Grant Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Marine Debris Challenge Competition, will test the viability of natural materials, such as coir, wood, jute and hemp, as alternatives to the non-biodegradable plastics commonly used in environmental restoration, water quality protection and aquaculture in coastal South Carolina.
Natural materials have been replaced by plastics and polymer composites in these sectors over the last half century. The accumulation of these modern non-biodegradable materials is a threat to critically valuable and highly sensitive coastal ecosystems worldwide. This project will test the use of different types of natural material from laboratory to field conditions in order to determine which are viable alternatives for South Carolina’s estuarine environments.
“When trying to reduce marine plastics and other non-biodegradable material from the environment, the best practice is not to produce it at all. Developing new tools to accomplish important tasks such as stormwater management and protein production, that are sustainable and safe, ensures better water quality in our estuaries and ocean,” said Susan Lovelace, Ph.D., executive director of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “We are delighted that this project was one of only ten chosen from a competitive national pool of high-quality proposals. This multi-institutional team of researchers, outreach professionals and community partners led by Dr. Strosnider provides an example of the state’s intellectual resources at work to solve our environmental challenges.”
The project team includes a diverse cadre of partners and stakeholders, including Gullah Geechee communities in coastal South Carolina, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium extension specialists, the University of Dayton (Ohio), Johnson C. Smith University (Charlotte, N.C.), Robinson Design Engineers and Clemson University. These partners will lead the study through research to application, from natural material selection and lab testing to field deployment and economic feasibility. Advisory committees will guide each stage of the project: identifying promising material options, materials testing, economic analyses and the promotion of viable proven alternatives.
“We look forward to catalyzing the transition to more sustainable and economically competitive material choices in concert with our deep network of regional stakeholders,” said Bill Strosnider, principal investigator and director of USC’s Baruch Marine Field Laboratory.
Opportunities for diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and accessibility are embedded throughout the study, particularly by engaging Gullah Geechee communities in the research, enhancing capacity at a Historically Black College and University (Johnson C. Smith University), and providing paid internships for students of color from a variety of academic and community backgrounds.
Project deliverables will include a list of proven, recommended natural material alternatives to plastics that can be used in the coastal environmental restoration, water quality protection and aquaculture sectors. In addition, scientific journal articles, outreach publications and presentations and K-12 curriculum and engagement materials will be developed and delivered via a sustained outreach and extension campaign.