press release
Published: 10 February 2020

UKRI award to help understand the important role volunteers play in tackling marine litter

By Natasha Meredith

A timely and innovative new project from Dr Kayleigh Wyles from the University of Surrey is set to investigate the important role of volunteers in tackling marine litter. The study, which is the first of its kind, is one of 53 projects to share £1.4m from the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) Citizen Science Exploration scheme that aims to engage UK citizens in world- leading research.

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Getty Images

Marine litter is an urgent and growing problem that causes devastating damage to the marine environment and wildlife and negatively impacts local societies and economies.  A burgeoning trend in this area of study is ‘citizen science’ -- the use of volunteers to help understand and tackle the issue of marine litter by recording (and removing) debris found in different environments. Volunteers have proven an invaluable resource in dealing with this problem and the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach cleaning event alone has removed 11,404 metric tonnes of waste over 25 years.

During the study Dr Wyles and her team will bring together world leaders in this area to determine how the use of citizen science can be used to benefit both science and wider society. This will enable the team to better understand the current use, opportunities, obstacles and next steps on how citizen science can be used to tackle marine litter. Findings from this study will encourage greater engagement and retention of volunteers.  

The Citizen Science Exploration Grant scheme from the UKRI is an initiative that enables UK citizens to actively contribute to publicly funded research and encourages underserved communities to share their ideas, concerns and aspirations and to get involved in decision making. The projects will target communities that would not normally engage with research and innovation, so they can shape initiatives that are relevant to their lives and local areas.  

Dr Kayleigh Wyles, Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “To tackle the growing problem of marine litter we need to think creatively. Citizen science is one way we can do this. The work of volunteers is invaluable, and we need to further understand why they choose to take part as well as identify any obstacles they face. This will help us attract, engage and retain more volunteers. The ultimate goal of this project is to encourage activities that are beneficial to both science and the citizen scientists.”

Tom Saunders, Head of Public Engagement, UKRI, said: “This is one of 53 pilot projects that we have funded, all using exciting ways that researchers and innovators can involve the public in their work. In 2020 and beyond we will build on the lessons we learn through these pilot projects to help us achieve our ambition of making research and innovation responsive to the knowledge, priorities and values of society and open to participation by people from all backgrounds.”

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