Biscayne Bay Drift Card launch aims to gather data on climate change, pollution

RSMAS Students and researchers throw drift card trackers into Biscayne Bay Monday morning. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer
RSMAS students and researchers throw drift card trackers into Biscayne Bay Monday morning. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer

More than twenty researchers and students threw colorful, data-collecting “drift cards” from onboard the F.G. Walton Smith docked at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) on Monday morning to launch the Biscayne Bay Drift Card Study.

The Drift Card Study involves the release of scientific “cards” into the ocean in order to track their movement around Biscayne Bay and locate where they ultimately wash ashore. RSMAS researchers said the cards are harmless to the environment because they are made of wood and are equipped with GPS trackers.

The study follows the structure of the Deepwater Horizon research project, which was conducted after the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The research exists as part of a larger move by the university to gather data on the effects of climate change and pollution on the oceanic environment. The Biscayne Drift Card Study was coordinated with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

Cards will be released every three months until June 2017 in eight different locations across Biscayne Bay.

The results of the project will be used to assess a number of environmental problems: those associated with the recent chemical leak from the Turkey Point nuclear power plant, as well as the collection of debris around mangroves in the past decade and the recent bloom in blue-green algae, which prompted Florida Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in various Florida counties over the summer.

“It is important to educate the citizens of Miami about what happens when they drop trash into the bay,” said Nathan Laxague, a graduate student researcher at RSMAS. “The information we collect regarding the drift cards will be used to help develop a drift model in the bay.”

The drift model will paint a picture of the flow of trash and pollution, aiding researchers in developing technologies to better protect and sustain Florida’s coastlines.

RSMAS partnered with the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE) for the project. CARTHE is an organization that sponsors research and coordinates operations to reduce humankind’s negative effects on the environment.

“If you find a card on the beach, please, follow the instructions on the card and report your discovery,” CARTHE said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Scientists rely on the public to find these drift cards along the beaches.”

People who find the cards should include the date, time and location of the finding, along with a photo if possible. Found cards should be reported to the school through Instagram using the tag #BayDrift or by emailing