• microplastics
  • Plastic Monitoring

    Plastics have been a concern for the environment since the 1960s. Recently, there has been rising concern about small plastics like microplastics and nurdles. Microplastics are any small pieces of plastic that are less than 5mm in length, while nurdles are small plastic beads or pellets that are used in the manufacturing process. The size of these plastics allows them to be ingested by a wide range of animals, including humans. Ingested microplastics can do physical harm to the body, lead to impaired reproduction in fish and alter microbe communities.


    Nurdles are small plastic pellets that are produced during plastic manufacturing. Nurdles are the raw materials in plastic production and are shipped to different factories that melt these pellets down and use them to make all of our plastic products. These plastic pellets can enter the environment during the production and shipping of the nurdles. The nurdles can spill during loading and unloading at factories and can fall from railroad cars, trucks, and ships during transportation. Once nurdles are in the environment, they can be detrimental to wildlife. Nurdles can be mistaken as food, often looking like eggs to birds, fish, and crustaceans. After the nurdles are ingested, the animal can feel full, stopping them from eating real food. They can also cause ulcerations in the stomach and are potentially toxic.

    Nurdle Patrol

    Nurdle PatrolNurdle Patrol is a citizen science program run by Mission-Aransas Estuarine Research Reserve (Reserve) at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. The program started after millions of plastic pellets were found along the coast in Texas in September 2018. Since then, the program has collected lots of data on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. RiverWatch is partnering with Nurdle Patrol to help expand their reach to volunteers across the country. We are encouraging our volunteers to join the effort in hunting for nurdles in Illinois. Nurdles are likely to be found along the Great Lakes, large rivers, urban streams, and railroad tracks.

    Nurdle Survey

    A Nurdle Survey is the method developed by Nurdle Patrol to collect consistent data on the presence of nurdles in our waterways. This method was originally designed to collect nurdles along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We have slightly altered the methods to be used by RiverWatch citizen scientists. 

    Before starting, watch the 4-minute training video from Nurdle Patrol. This video will walk through the methods of collecting nurdles along a river and show what nurdles look like.

    Methods for streams, rivers, and lakes

    1. Begin by searching along the waterline for nurdles. Start a timer for 10 minutes and begin searching.
      1. When you find a nurdle in these 10 minutes, immediately move on to step 2.
      2. If you find no nurdles in 10 minutes, skip to step 3.
    2. Stop the original timer and set a new 10-minute timer. Continue collecting nurdles along the water line for the whole 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes are up, your survey is complete. Collect the nurdles in a glass jar or other container for disposal and move to step 4.
    3. Move to the most recent high-water line. To spot a high-water line, look for darker coloration on the substrate and vegetation and debris left behind along the line. Repeat steps 1 and 2 at the high-water line. If no recent high-water lines can be seen or no nurdles are found, your survey is complete.
    4. Submit data either on nurdlepatrol.org or using the Nurdle Patrol app. Even if you do not find any nurdles during your survey, 0 is still a useful data point.
    5. Dispose of collected nurdles in the trash, keeping them in a container. Disposing of them this way will help keep them from accidentally reentering the environment.

    Printable directions can be found here.

  • Contact

    Danelle Haake, RiverWatch Director and Stream Ecologist

    One Confluence Way
    East Alton, IL 62024

    Phone: (618)468-2784
    Fax: (618)468-2899

    Hannah Griffis, Riverwatch Technician and Volunteer Coordinator

    One Confluence Way
    East Alton, IL 62024

    Phone: (618) 468-2781
    Fax: (618) 468-2899

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