Public Lab Wiki documentation

Testing Our Waters

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Summary is a citizen science project designed to get people to engage in ocean cleanup and to help gather data about how much plastic is currently in our waters. Our goal is to make plastic analysis accessible so our trawls can be assembled at home cheaply (starting at around $15) and are easy to use, making participation in this important problem simple.

Testing Our Waters Project Introduction from Testing Our Waters on Vimeo.

The Issue

Our oceans are becoming increasingly polluted every year, with predictions that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016). Plastics pose a real threat to the health of marine organisms and seabirds (Wilcox et al 2015), as well as humans. Not only do plastics fill up the stomachs of marine organisms, decreasing the amount of food they can ingest and in some cases causing them to starve to death (Wilcox et al 2016), they can also be toxic. The plastics are also imbued with chemicals which can be harmful to organism health and can bioaccumulate. Further down the line, this could lead to harmful health effects for humans as well (Rocheman et al 2013). Through tracking what kinds of plastics are making their way into our water systems, we can become better equipped to learn about what the most effective avenues to stop pollution may be.

Our Trawls

Our trawls come in a variety of sizes and utilize a wide berth of materials. The majority of our trawls call for the 3D printing of a frame, for example, our Re3DP trawl. We recommend using filament made from recycled materials for printing and have all the designs for the trawl frames available for free download on our website. We do have two options for trawls using only recycled materials as well for those who are not comfortable with/able to 3D print but still want to participate in the process.

Our trawls can be attached to boats (going at slow speeds of about 4 knots) or can be utilized by foot. They can be dragged down peers, behind boats, or dangled off of bridges, allowing the user to engage in plastic documentation in a variety of helpful and easy ways designed to allow you to participate on your own terms.

Analysis of Your Findings

Trawling is only half the battle, an important step is the analysis and recording of your data. The way we are able to learn more about what is out there polluting our aquatic ecosystems is through careful and consistent analysis of findings. Combing through and processing the microplastics found when trawling and analyzing them is just as important as identifying the larger pieces. After analyzing your findings, documenting what you found is an essential step in participating in trawling based citizen science.


  1. TestingOurWaters.Net -- Our website with all of our trawls and instructions

  2. Re3DP Trawl -- $15 trawl

  3. BabyLegs -- A trawl created by Max Liboiron

  4. 5Gyres -- Trawling and ocean plastic resource