Raleigh's Little Rock Creek gets a Trash Trout

Environmental, Sound Rivers

Posted on November 17th, 2022

Tuesday, Sound Rivers’ staff and a crew of volunteers anchored a Trash Trout to the banks of Little Rock Creek, a tributary of Walnut Creek. The litter trap will collect trash from the creek, a place where stormwater drains from the surrounding landscape.

Trash Trouts prevent trash from flowing downstream and will be used to gather data for “Improving Human and Ecosystem Health through Microplastic Reduction,” an ongoing research study into plastic pollution affects the environment.

“In addition to being about information or research-gathering, it’s also about education and getting community members involved in their watershed. Walnut Creek is a really special part of Raleigh, and it has a more recent history of community engagement. It used to be a dumping ground, but now it’s a really beautiful area because of that community engagement,” said Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop.

Through a $188,000 state grant to Waterkeepers Carolina, 14 Riverkeepers across North Carolina are participating in the study, including Sam and Sound Rivers’ Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell.

“We know there’s a ton of plastic pollution in the environment. We see it all the time, in terms of trash in our waterways, macroplastics like plastic bottles and bags. This will help us understand how macroplastics break down over time and how they settle into the water and the soil,” Jill said. “They don’t go away. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they don’t go away.”

When macroplastics break down into microplastics, they become an environmental and public health issue. Since they are so small (5mm or less), microplastics are not picked up by water filtration systems and are often eaten by fish, birds and other aquatic animals, negatively impacting the health of wildlife and, in turn, humans.

Partnering with Duke Law and Policy Clinic, Waterkeepers Carolina, a coalition of North Carolina’s Riverkeepers, launched the study last year, with microplastics pollution sampling in 30 urban and rural waterways. The final step was to install Trash Trouts to collect macroplastics in those locations to better understand the sources of the microplastics found.

“The traps are a way to, one, clean up some trash, and, two, we’ll be able to look and see what kind of trash is in our waterways, what is the actual makeup of the litter and what of that is plastic,” Sam said. “It’s useful to know what kind of trash is ending up in our waterways, so we know how to prevent it from getting in there in the first place.”

Raleigh’s Stormwater Unit, Walnut Creek Wetland Center staff and Sound Rivers worked together to identify the best location to install the Trash Trout. The device is built to withstand flash rain events, allowing water to flow through the trap unimpeded, at the same time capturing larger pieces of trash floating downstream.

Sound Rivers currently has two other Trash Trouts installed on Duffyfield Canal in New Bern and on Jack’s Creek in Washington. Unlike those devices, which are anchored by metal poles cemented into the waterways’ banks, the Little Rock Creek Trash Trout is secured to a willow tree on one bank; a cherry on the other.

“We had some big, sturdy, old trees that were perfect for anchors. We didn’t want to dig into the streambanks if we didn’t have to, so it was an equally strong and less impactful way to anchor them,” Sam said.

Once trash is captured, it will be manually removed and “audited,” or sorted. The Great Raleigh Cleanup, an organization dedicated to removing litter from the landscape, and the Neighborhood Ecology Corps, an environmental club of middle-school children based out of the Walnut Creek Wetland Center, will be in charge of monitoring and auditing the Trash Trout.

“It has a lot of local, neighborhood buy-in, which makes it an ideal location for a Trash Trout,” Sam said.

Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell directs volunteers helping with the installation of a Trash Trout on Little Rock Creek in Raleigh.

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