Nick Mallos always wanted to be a professional surfer, and spent the summers of his childhood on the Jersey Shore swimming in and surfing on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard to become a pro surfer, though—especially when you live in Hershey, Pennsylvania—and over time this passion morphed into an interest in marine biology, which Nick studied at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. During a semester abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Nick researched the migration patterns of juvenile lemon sharks, and after graduating from Dickinson taught at a marine science school in North Carolina. While there, he developed a particular interest in the role of citizen science and volunteer efforts in ocean conservation and marine science, which he continued to research in a graduate program in coastal environmental management at Duke University.
Upon graduation, Nick began working with the Ocean Conservancy doing both field research and getting volunteers engaged with citizen science and beach cleanups. Currently, he lives in Portland and works as the Director for the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program, coordinating the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of ocean health–the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). The ICC mobilizes nearly one million volunteers across more than 150 countries coming together on a single day to collect over 20 million pounds of trash, and cataloguing the results so scientists and policymakers can see which types of pollution are most prevalent. The ICC is an awesome example of what makes the work of the Ocean Conservancy and the Trash Free Seas program so unique and important, engaging volunteers and the public at large around the issue of ocean pollution while also contributing to our scientific understanding of the challenges facing our oceans and informing policy responses to solve those problems.
According to Nick, there is more energy and passion around the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans now than ever before: “There’s been a remarkable shift in the public consciousness in the past five to ten years, and it’s that demand for action by the public that keeps me optimistic about real action that reduces flows of plastic into the oceans”. Part of this enthusiasm can be attributed to the fact that plastic pollution in the oceans is such a multifaceted and global issue, between its impacts on marine life and its implications for global food security and the livelihoods of coastal communities. But Nick says that it’s also important to recognize that there’s no silver bullet solution, and that everyone has an important role to play in saving our oceans. “Government needs to put forward smart policies, corporations need to think carefully about the materials they use and how their products are (or are not) being recycled after their use”, and everyday citizens can take proactive steps to reduce the amount of single use plastic that they consume.