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Research Overview


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Research Overview


I conduct research on the different human drivers behind waste proliferation and marine debris presence.

My passions stem from a desire to aid in understanding anthropogenic sources of waste and debris that end up in rivers, streams, lakes, and waterways.  

I have previously conducted projects in several areas of this field - from conducting field research in quantifying and classifying the waste problem all the way to identifying and critiquing systemic, institutional obstacles to improving the waste situation.

My next project is aimed at redirecting the spotlight on these waste issues from the coasts to the internal states, particularly the Midwest. 

For information about specific research projects I have conducted, scroll through the selected research highlights below. 
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Garbage Presence in Veracruz


Garbage Presence in Veracruz


Quantification and Classification of Garbage Presence in Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico

Summer 2013

Funded in part by the University of Iowa's Stanley Grant for International Research. Conducted by Blake Rupe, MA. Researcher advised by Drs. Nancy Ann Budd, Scott Spak, and Lucie Laurian

Snapshot

Garbage presence and marine debris on coastal shores has detrimental effects to ecosystems, including hazards to the health and safety of marine life, as it often entangles or is ingested by seabirds, marine fish, and mammals. This study addresses the issues of garbage presence along the coastal zone of Veracruz by assessing how much and what types of garbage is present. In total, 1,806 pounds of garbage was collected, 87% of which were recyclable glass, plastics, wood, and cardboard.

Implications

By assessing, quantifying, and classifying the presence of marine debris along the coasts of Veracruz, this researcher was able to ascertain the current marine debris condition in Mexico‘s Gulf coastal zone. No other debris quantification studies have been conducted on any other Gulf state in Mexico. Further research is necessary to ascertain the complete current pollution situation along the coasts in Mexico, which will require multidisciplinary coordination among researchers, scholars, scientists and policymakers.

Coasts along the city of Veracruz are highly polluted by marine litter. The debris present is mainly in the form of glass drinking containers, plastic beverage debris, as well as inorganic, chemically-treated wood. Other coasts are equally polluted with marine debris, even if not with the same composition of materials. While distinctions can be made about whether the origin of debris that reaches the ocean is from a sewer pipe or left behind by visitors directly on beaches, once in the marine environment these materials are carried out into the ocean or are buried or lodged in coastal shores during high tides with no regard for their origin. As a snapshot of the current situation at the local level in Mexico, this case study serves as an important indicator that international regulation that allows for domestic territory to remain independent of international treaties and oversight is not effective. An inclusive, protective, more rigorous coastal zone policy is important for Mexico. At the international level, Mexico is party to several legislative frameworks to combat the disintegration of the marine environment to protect the abundant biodiversity throughout the country‘s large coastal zone. Because of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Mexico‘s territorial seas, including the coasts of the highly polluted Veracruz, fall out of the jurisdiction of international regulations and policies that were created to help correct these inefficiencies and damages to important ecosystems and biodiversity. Domestically, fragmented and corrupt bureaucratic obstacles remain a hindrance to progress at the local, beach-front level. While more quantification and classification research needs to be conducted on more Gulf cities in the country to ascertain an accurate account of the marine debris problem, Veracruz serves as an adequate indicator of legislative inadequacies. As a port city and tourist destination, Veracruz experiences a various number of land-based pollution sources, including fishing, agriculture, industrial activities, tourism and recreation, and urban development. Combined, these have created environmental stressors, including marine debris presence, that have not adequately been regulated by local, national or international treaties. Researchers have suggested potential avenues to remedy this situation around the globe, and progress needs to be made in combating domestic inadequacies. 

Slideshow of this research project

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Environmental Policy and framework analysis


Environmental Policy and framework analysis


DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL POLICY IN MEXICO: COMPOUNDING ISSUES FOR THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT

SPRING 2014

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in International Studies in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa. Written by Blake Rupe, MA. Advised by Drs. Nancy Ann Budd, Scott Spak, and Lucie Laurian

ABSTRACT

Mexico is home to almost 2.9 million square kilometers of land and water surface area that is affected by water pollution and environmental degradation. While geographically more prevalent to pollution threats as well as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, it is important to coordinate the management and regulation of coastal zones effectively to safeguard these ecosystem from degradation. However, because of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nations view the problem of living resources and their management as a national priority instead of an international cooperation initiative. Mexico‘s fragmented, overlapping, and sometimes corrupt domestic institutions for environmental policy yield ineffective and inadequate pollution control, a result of which is a high level of marine debris presence on the coasts, as evidenced by a recent study in Veracruz, Veracruz. This marine debris, the most abundant of which is composed of plastics, is detrimental to marine life, leading to death, starvation, debilitation, reduced quality of life and lowered reproductive performance. While several avenues are being explored to mitigate marine debris in the environment, such as decreasing knowledge gaps, increasing pollution prevention measures, and education, degradation issues have compounded globally, revealing a clear picture of inadequate international regulation and convention. A stricter Mexican national regulatory system that incorporates private and public waste management organizations to incentivize and facilitate waste cleanup is needed to improve the health of the global ocean.

CONCLUSION

Man-made debris can be found in every part of the ocean, from the poles to the equator, from shorelines, mangroves and the sea surface to the ocean floor. Many detrimental effects have resulted from this debris, including hazards to the health and safety of marine life such as death, starvation, debilitation, reduced quality of life and lowered reproductive performance.

By focusing on solving knowledge gaps, increasing marine pollution prevention measures, national legislation measures, and increasing education on marine debris and pollution, interventions could be created to solidify a foundation or framework for future advancements. However, international measures alone cannot combat this issue successfully. International oversight and pressure over ecological degradation, habitat loss, and loss of biodiversity are important, as these are issues that require drastic, immediate, and cooperative measures to reverse, however, the most successful campaigns for the local beaches in Mexico will be driven by domestic infrastructure, policies, pressures, and people.

Domestic initiatives would benefit from a gauge of the success or failure of initiatives and policies. Including a domestic assessment of factors such as food provision (of wild caught fisheries and mariculture), artisanal fishing opportunities, natural products, carbon storage, 67 coastal protection, coastal livelihoods and economics, tourism and recreation, sense of place (of iconic species and lasting special places), clean waters, and biodiversity (of species and habitats), would ensure the health and survival of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Mexico must implement strategies to better their marine environment rather than maintaining a stagnate level of pollution.

Without measures such as these, local marine environments stand very little chance for successful, sustainable, and healthy ecosystems. As more than one billion of people around the world rely on the food, money, and resources that the ocean provides, it is imperative that coastal nations implement effective domestic strategies and management plans that take into account the interconnectedness of the ocean. A new era in coastal management must be welcomed in, an era that recognizes that, while international policies and infrastructure help set standards and are a means to express domestic interest in issues to the international community, individual domestic infrastructure, policies, pressures and people are the most effective ways to ensure the health of coastal marine environments.

For the full paper, download it for free here.