“Drift cards” will soon be washing up on Franklin County beaches as part of a research project at Texas A&M University to study ocean currents.
The bright yellow cards have contact information and a request that finders report where they were found.
The project is the brainchild of Piers Chapman who has done similar research in Africa. There he released thousands of plastic cards. About 2 percent were recovered in places as far flung as Brazil and India.
“That was a much larger current system,” he said.
Chapman expects to recover a much larger percentage here. Twenty-five percent of the first 250 released on April 6 and 8 off the Louisiana coast have already been returned.
If you find and return a card, you become eligible for a monthly drawing, with the prize a $25 gift card. The first winner was an Ohio native vacationing in Lynn Haven where she found her winning entry.
“It’s a fun way to track currents and to get people involved,” said Chapman.
He said the drift cards released in the Gulf will be biodegradable, in keeping with the international Mapol Convention which bans putting plastic in ocean waters.
Scientists on research cruises, funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), will drop these cards at various locations in the Gulf and keep a detailed record of the point of entry.
GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the associated impact on the environment and public health. Chapman said the funding is administered by a board of distinguished scientist who report to BP annually but operate without oversight from the company. The project was one of nine funded out of 200 applications during a national competition.
Over the next six to eight months, 5,000 cards will be released. Chapman relies on cooperators including Florida State University and the University of South Florida to actually deploy the cards for him. Ten cards are released at each site and Chapman plans to cover the entire northern Gulf.
Posters dealing with the cards are now being posted in areas where they are expected to come ashore.
The cards will enable oceanographers to improve prediction models and see how gas and oil travel along the currents of the Gulf. Chapman said he is especially interested to see if any drift cards escape the Gulf and come ashore on the East Coast.
Each bright yellow card has instructions in both Spanish and English on how to report its recovery using an online form or a phone number.
Learn more about the project and see interactive maps of where cards have been released and found by visiting http://gisr.tamu.edu/.
Chapman said, especially with the recent influence of Tropical Storm Andrea, cards may arrive on our beaches in the very near future.