Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Pollution Challenge

Applications open for solution-based course to tackle marine pollution

The ocean is a vital part of California’s biodiversity, with 124 marine protected areas all across the state’s coast. These areas are recognized for their importance in conserving marine life and preserving cultural sites. 

Rising levels of plastic pollution, however, threaten these protected habitats, and given that there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, new strategies are needed more than ever to address this growing crisis. 

The Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Pollution Challenge invites participants to develop effective solutions to reduce plastics entering the ocean. The challenge will emphasize the application of several strategies such as changing human behavior, evaluating solutions and data mapping. The challenge grew from a 2018 program known as the Plastic Awareness Global Initiative and focuses on spurring action. There are no fees to apply or to participate in the program. Applications are currently open and will close on Nov. 13, and a cohort of 20-25 participants will be selected. 

Hosted by the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Center for Social Innovation and Impact at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, this six-month accelerator program will take place from January to June 2021. Participants will engage in a series of short virtual courses, team research, and a final hackathon-style challenge. 

Six 90-minute weekly courses will each have their own moderator and panelists. The courses will be led by experts in fields of natural science, behavioral science, economics, policy, and more to encourage interdisciplinary thinking. Moderators include Kristen Goodrich from the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Shelly Moore from the San Francisco Estuary Institute, Eleanor Sterling from the American Museum of Natural History, Wiinnie Lau from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Nancy Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institution, who is also a former director of CMBC at Scripps Oceanography.

“Despite countless initiatives, programs and policies attempting to curb the flow of plastic to our oceans, it is now evident that this challenge continues to grow,” said Ayelet Gneezy, professor of behavioral sciences and marketing at Rady School of Management. “Acknowledging the need for a multi-pronged approach, this program offers participants an opportunity to learn from world experts in data sciences, marine sciences, behavioral sciences, and more, and to apply this knowledge to develop system-based strategies for combating the flow of plastics into California's oceans, with the support of Scripps, Rady, and the UC San Diego community.”

Participants will also form teams as they conduct their own research and pose research questions, supported by UC San Diego, Scripps and other mentors. Following an expert review, teams will virtually present their new findings, methodologies and approaches to all participants to inspire new ways of thinking about solutions to plastic pollution.

For the final challenge, multidisciplinary teams will identify innovative solutions to minimize plastic from entering the ocean and polluting specific sites within California’s marine conservation areas and marine cultural preservation areas. All teams will present their proposed solutions to a judging panel. 

"There are countless ways to address environmental challenges, and we each want to maximize our individual impact,” said current CMBC Director Stuart Sandin. “This program offers participants an opportunity to consider ways to design strategies for combating the flow of plastics into California's oceans, building from insights and experiences from the diverse expertise from across Scripps, Rady, and the rest of UC San Diego."

The challenge is an opportunity for building new networks across disciplines, for creative thinking about complex environmental problems, and for solving a problem that people care about – plastic pollution in the ocean. People from all fields with an interest or background in ocean and coastal sciences, behavioral sciences, business, engineering, community engagement and more are encouraged to apply.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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