Student Research Focused On Lake Superior “Nurdles”
Posted on: November 14, 2018
Nipigon Bay Hurdles
Nurdles accumulated amongst natural beach debris, Nipigon Bay, Lake Superior, 2017. (Photo:

Lakehead University Student Research to Focus on “Nurdles”

The following article is written by Audrey Nerino, an Honours student in the Department of Geography and the Environment at Lakehead University. Audrey’s research is being supervised by Dr. Rob Stewart. Audrey’s article below lays out the research she will be completing to better quantify the issue of “nurdles,” small plastic beads classified as microplastics under both Canadian and U.S. legislation, which are washing up on beaches across eastern Lake Superior. Audrey also sits on a Lake Superior Microplastics Workgroup focusing on nurdles and comprised of representatives of Lakehead University, Canadian Pacific Railway, Parks Canada and residents from the Rossport area. Thanks from Infosuperior to Audrey for providing the following research overview:

Research Backgrounder

While microplastic pollution has been well-documented in all the world’s oceans, the issue persists closer to home in Lake Superior as well. In 2008, a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment near Rossport, Ontario, between Wawa and Thunder Bay, caused an unknown quantity of small plastic pellets known as “nurdles” (used to manufacture plastic goods) to be spilled into the lake. Cleanup efforts are ongoing, however with the nurdles being distributed throughout Eastern lake Superior in both Canada and the United States, containing and cleaning them up has proven to be a great challenge. This issue is of concern because microplastic pollution has the potential to adversely affect both the lithosphere and hydrosphere, as well as the organisms that reside in both. The general purpose of this project is to investigate microplastic pollution on the Canadian North Shore of Lake Superior, more specifically, polution caused by the 2008 Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment.

Nurdles cleanup at a 2017 Nipigon Bay beach cleanup organized by Parks Canada. (Photo:

Research Objectives

The specific objectives of this project are to detail the history, impact, and cleanup of the nurdles; to date, locate and map areas with a high presence of nurdles; and to develop monitoring and remediation protocol to facilitate and track their cleanup. In order to carry out this project, it will be necessary to meet with and interview both local and government agencies involved in the derailment and cleanup of the nurdles. This will allow more knowledge to be gained on the derailment itself as well as cleanup and monitoring efforts that have taken place to date. It will also likely be necessary to analyze the general pattern of circulation throughout the lake and use mapping software to illustrate areas in which nurdles have accumulated based on the information gathered.
More Information
More information will be posted on Infosuperior as Audrey progresses through and completes her research. Infosuperior looks forward to Audrey’s conclusions and recommendations.
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