Technology is changing the way we live, work and connect to one another, causing profound effects on society, the economy and the environment. While technology has caused and continues to cause many problems globally, it can also play a crucial role in solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, food security and environmental degradation. From the development of phone apps to artificial intelligence, technology is a powerful tool to engage and empower individuals, communities, businesses and governments to create change.

In a recent SHiFT Community Hub event, Kathryn Youngblood and eXXpedition Ambassador Marena Brinkhurst shared their experiences. We’re kicking things off with environmental engineer Kathryn Youngblood, Citizen Science Director for Marine Debris Tracker, a citizen science app. Next week, we will learn more from Marena Brinkhurst, Program Manager on the Community team at Mapbox, which supports social impact partners to use Mapbox tools. 

Meet Kathryn Youngblood

Kathryn Youngblood is an environmental engineer who has always been fascinated by the complex ways in which humans interact with and rely upon our environment. Currently a research engineer at the University of Georgia, she has worked with the Jambeck Research Group for over five years studying upstream solutions to ocean plastic pollution. Kathryn was named an Our Ocean Youth Leader by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance in 2018 for her work with Marine Debris Tracker, a citizen science app creating a global open database of inland and coastal litter that has over 2 million items tracked so far. As a geographic information systems devotee, Kathryn believes in the power of geographic data to tell meaningful stories and inspire action. The citizen science litter data collected using the Marine Debris Tracker app constructs a powerful scientific and educational map to spread awareness on the issue of plastic pollution. Kathryn has helped create and foster a community of ocean activists and citizen scientists through public outreach, emphasising Marine Debris Tracker’s social media platforms to reach an audience of young environmentalists. Follow along on Twitter and Facebook @DebrisTracker!

Marine Debris Tracker 

Marine Debris Tracker, powered by Morgan Stanley in partnership with National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia, is an open-data citizen-science tool. It unites the power of technology and citizen science to fight plastic and other types of pollution that harm our environment. Every day, dedicated educational, non-profit, and scientific organisations and passionate citizen scientists from all around the world record data on inland and marine debris with the easy-to-use app, contributing to an open data platform and scientific research.

What has the project achieved so far?

Marine Debris Tracker users are creating a growing dataset on plastic pollution that would be impossible for scientists to build alone. Together, we can create a bigger picture of marine debris and plastic pollution through collecting open data, generating scientific findings, informing policy, and inspiring upstream design.

Marine Debris Tracker and eXXpedition

eXXpedition has worked with Marine Debris Tracker for many years on our research expeditions at sea and virtual voyages on land to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution. During eXXpedition Round the World alone, our community logged 35,826 items in the Marine Debris Tracker app.

In 2021, our ambassadors began a global citizen science programme in response to COVID-19. In collaboration with Professor Jenna Jambeck, Kathryn Youngblood and their team at the University of Georgia, eXXpedition ambassadors have been conducting local litter surveys once a month for twelve months and submitting their data through the Marine Debris Tracker app.  The objectives of the global citizen science programme are: 

  • To identify patterns in waste at different locations around the world.
  • To investigate the characteristics of litter in local areas.
  • To investigate the differences in litter characteristics between different land-use zones.
  • To monitor changes over time by monitoring litter regularly over 12 months. 

How can you get involved? 

  1. Download the free app on Android or iOS.
  2. Open the app and allow it to access your location, so it can collect geospatial data on where you’re tracking and where you’re finding litter. If you don’t have cell service or Wi-Fi where you are planning to track, you must first open the app and allow it to access your location.
  3. Select “Start Tracking” and select your project or organisation. Don’t have one? The NOAA list is a great place to start.
  4. Once you’ve selected “Use this list”, you’re ready to start tracking litter that you see. Clicking on the categories at the top will take you to different sections of the list, each with specific litter items. The arrow in the bottom right hand corner will send you back to the top.
  5. Record the number of items you find of each litter type by tapping the “Add” button. You can use the up/down-pointing triangles to change the number or click directly on the number to type in the amount. Once you tap “Add”, your items are sent to the “Items Collected” trash can, which records the total number of items you’ve logged.
  6. When you’re done tracking, select the right-pointing triangle at the top-right to continue.
  7. Review the items you have tracked and the map of your sightings. You can always add or remove items by clicking on the map. If your data looks correct, select “Submit.”
  8. Once you click “Submit,” and you’ll be asked to register through email, Facebook, or SciStarter.
  9. Another window will appear with options. If you have cell service or Wi-Fi access, you can click “Submit” to upload to our database. If you don’t, save the session and submit the observations when you do. You can also email a CSV file to yourself as backup. You can also access your data anytime through the Marine Debris Tracker website.
  10. Add a picture of your sightings or add a map and share your cleanup on social media. Be sure to be safe when collecting litter and dispose of all trash and recycling responsibly.

Visit the Marine Debris Tracker website to find out more.

More about SHiFT Hub Events

eXXpedition runs regular events for our community and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates on upcoming public events, and browse our blog to find out the highlights of our community events and keep up with eXXpedition news.

Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.