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Group tackles sneaky pollutant harming wildlife

Posted at 10:25 AM, Jun 23, 2022

GALVESTON, Texas — Jace Tunnell, the founder of the Nurlde Patrol and Reserve Director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, is asked the same question often.

"I hear every day, somebody says, 'What is a nurdle," he said.

Tunnell explained nurdles are manufactured, tiny balls of plastic that are typically melted down to make things like a dashboard in a vehicle, a computer, eyeglasses and anything plastic. He said nurdles are usually spilled during transport from cargo ships or railroad cars.

"These things would be out here for hundreds of years if we're not picking them up," Tunnell said while on a recent Nurdle Patrol cleanup along Galveston Bay.

Since 2018, Nurdle Patrol has grown to thousands of volunteers worldwide.

"I want to help out where I can. I love nature and hate to see that this is a problem," Carly Weldon said.

Weldon volunteers with Nurdle Patrol and works for the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Nurdle Patrol groups upload their findings to the nonprofit's website map. It's color-coded to indicate where the highest concentration of nurdles is found.

"They look natural, and birds think that they're food," Tunnell said. He described birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life can consume nurdles and ultimately starve because of a false sensation of fullness and lack of nutrition.

"I ended up finding 123 nurdles in 10 minutes. That's a high concentration to be able to find," Tunnell said about a recent cleanup. "I can take that to an elected official and say, 'Look, this is what I found on our beaches here. We need to do something about this.' So, it kind of puts in motion change that can occur."

"I hope one day, there will be a better, cleaner beach, and this comes to a solution of putting in restrictions to help this from happening," Weldon said.

Nurdle Patrol has sent out hundreds of kits globally, many to schools and volunteer organizations, with information about gathering nurdles and reporting the findings safely. Anyone can request a kit through their website.