Mobile Baykeeper is working with a number of partners to install custom-built screens in rainwater gutters around downtown today, part of its “Litter-Free Mardi Gras” initiative. Using a federal grant courtesy of the NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program, Baykeeper hopes to reduce the amount of Mardi Gras-generated litter, including throws, that reaches local drainage basins like One Mile Creek. Baykeeper sought the grant after hosting cleanups and noticing a pattern of debris.

“We often see a lot of the same materials like shopping carts, car tires, toy cars, styrofoam containers, TVs, mops, buckets … but we’ve actually seen a lot of Mardi Gras throws including toy footballs, beads, cups, frisbees, you name it,” said Baykeeper Communications Director Hanlon Walsh. “There’s an obvious tie-in between Mardi Gras and litter, so I think the big thing is to make people aware of it and aware of One Mile Creek and these historic waterways that are being trashed during this big, carefree celebration of the city.”

With the assistance of partners including the city of Mobile, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Thompson Engineering, Gulf Coast Containers, Universal Precast and Alabama Pipe and Supply, Baykeeper is installing 15 Marine Debris Interceptors (MarDIs for short) along the parade route; they have the funding for 15 more.

Lagniappe | A Marine Debris Interceptor (MarDI) installed in a storm drain on Broad Street.

Thompson Engineering Vice President Don Bates recalled attending one cleanup of One Mile Creek, where “you couldn’t place a dime on the ground without it touching a piece of litter.”

“When we first went out there, it was like a blanket of trash,” he said. “Some of it has been there for decades.”

But with regular cleanups, increased awareness and preventative measures like the MarDIs, Bates said he’s already noticed an improvement, and expects more.

“This is a good, concentrated effort,” he said. “We thought, ‘what if we put all hands on deck, on One Mile Creek, where there are relatively few inflows, to see what true effort can do?’ It’s already remarkably different.”

Bates went on to describe the larger Three Mile Creek watershed, which is the focus of a planned greenspace recreation corridor between the University of South Alabama and downtown Mobile. Eventually, officials hope to connect that corridor to another bordering Brookley Aeroplex and extending to Dog River and beyond.

“The trash in Three Mile Creek is more visible, and its easy to say cleanup efforts there won’t work, but Three Mile is just a bigger One Mile, so I think that’s one of the real pivotal benefits of what we’re doing and trying to do.”

In a statement announcing the grant last year, Baykeeper Executive Director Casi Callaway emphasized the conundrum of Mardi Gras throws making their way into the stormwater system.
“Mardi Gras is a very special and fun occasion for our city, but it also raises a huge problem — litter in our streets and waterways,” she said. “Many of the items thrown in parades are left on the ground to wash into our storm drains and pollute nearby rivers and creeks. This project will enable us to remove a significant amount of marine debris from One Mile Creek.”

NOAA’s $56,013 grant facilitates the project through the 2019 carnival season. The campaign doesn’t end with stormwater screens or cleanups, it also asks attendees to pick up after themselves. In Year 2 of the grant, Baykeeper intends to work with Mardi Gras organizations themselves about litter reduction.

“Mardi Gras is a time when we should be showing off our city,” Bates said. “So we’re also asking people to take a little more pride as individuals, and maybe not throw that empty MoonPie wrapper on the ground or maybe not neglect that strand of broken beads and simply pick up around yourself or your area after the parade.”

According to The Advocate, a cleanup program in New Orleans removed 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads from stormwater drains last year.

Mobile’s first Mardi Gras parade, the Conde Cavaliers, rolls tonight at 6:30 p.m. The 2018 parade calendar for Mobile and Baldwin counties is available here.