PI Login

Bay Drift

Biscayne Bay Drift Card Study


A citizen science study focused on understanding our local ocean currents
and how trash and other pollutants are transported

In early 2016, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and Frost Science Museum, approached a team of CARTHE scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School to see if they could shed light on the increasing problem of marine debris. Specifically, they wanted to find the origin of the trash washing up into the mangroves around Vizcaya and the rest of Biscayne Bay.  The research team known as CARTHE (the Consortium for Advanced Research on the Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment) did not have an immediate answer, but did have the expertise and tools to design and develop a citizen science research project.

With a team of community organizations, students, and volunteers, the Biscayne Bay Drift Card Study (#BayDrift) was launched. The mission: deploy, capture, and analyze data collected by both citizen scientist-decorated drift cards and CARTHE’s custom, GPS-equipped, biodegradable, ocean surface drifters to understand where the trash may be coming from.


Report cards to #BayDrift or BayDriftMiami@gmail.com

Additional motivation: While in the planning stages for this project, South Florida was dealing with a tritium leak from the Turkey Point nuclear power plant, a waste water leak from an old pipe near downtown Miami directly into our study area, as well as an enormous blue-green algae bloom prompting Governor Scott to declare a state of emergency for Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, and Lee Counties.  During Year 1, Miami suffered several more sewage leaks. A better understanding of the currents in these areas can assist decision makers and resource managers in addressing their response to such events.



The Project Team coordinates quarterly deployments of drift cards and GPS-equipped drifters with scientists, students, families and members of our local community in 11 locations across Biscayne Bay. As a result of the currents, drift cards might be found anywhere along Miami-Dade county coastline and beyond!


Drift cards are small, eco-friendly wood cards that are brightly painted and float along the water’s surface, moved by the currents, wind, and tides. Each card is coded so the Project Team can identify where it was deployed (please include a photo when reporting cards).

The drift cards are labeled with information that introduces the project and instructs the finder how to report where it was found. By tracking the location where drift cards are released and found, we will learn how the currents distribute debris in Biscayne Bay.


Additionally, the CARTHE biodegradable, GPS-equipped drifters provide precise tracks, transmitting every 5 minutes, as they float along with the currents.  These are specially designed to accurately move with the surface currents, reporting their precise location for several weeks, providing a clear track of the ocean currents movements.  By combining the drift card data and the drifter data, we can slowly piece together the puzzle.

All of the information about where and when drift cards are deployed and recovered will be used by scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science to better understand the circulation in Biscayne Bay, which will help us develop solutions to decrease the trash and debris in the Bay and along our shoreline.  See maps below for drift card recovery sites from year 1 of Bay Drift.



During the first two years of the Bay Drift study, we have an average recovery rate of about 10%.  We release 40 cards per site, from 11 sites, 4 times per year. Most are reported on beaches since that is where there is the most foot traffic, and in the northern bay which is a more populated area. Cards have been found as far south as Elliott Key and as far north as Hutchinson Island.

Use the interactive StoryMap below to see how the project works and where the cards were found:


Click on the images below to see maps of drift cards and GPS-equipped CARTHE drifters for comparison.  (Colored squares indicate the launch location, Dots represent drift card recovery site, lines are the tracks of the GPS drifters)

Drift cards and Drifter tranks, Miami

Cards + drifters, Miami

Drifters from Miami to NC

Drifters, Miami to NC



Miami River

Miami River

Miami Science Barge

Miami Science Barge

Little River

Little River

West Miami Beach Zoom

West Miami Beach Zoom

West Miami Beach Full

West Miami Beach Full



Miami Beach King Tide

Miami Beach King Tide


Below are the animated tracks of the 20 drifters released on September 7 and 12, 2016.

Bay Drift drifter tracks Sept 7-27 from CARTHE on Vimeo.


This project is successful due to the strong collaboration and dedication of the enormous team that contributes to the work.

Partner Organizations:


Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

Phillip & Patricia Frost Museum of Science

Miami Waterkeeper

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves

Surfrider Foundation

Bill Baggs State Park

DEEP Foundation

Deering Estate

Biscayne National Park


Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation-Piano Slam

International Seakeepers Society

Key Biscayne Citizen Science Project

Angari Foundation


MAST Academy

Miami Country Day School

Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church School

Play & Learn Preschool

Miami Springs Middle School

Miami Northwestern Sr High School

Leisure City K-8 Center

Lamar Curry Middle School

Mater Grove Academy

St. Stephen’s School

South Pointe Elementary

Charles Drew Middle

Miami Norland HS

Miami Edison HS

Kinlock Park K-8

Cutler Bay Academy

Village Montessori


Bay Drift Lesson Plan

An activity for middle or high school students on ocean currents, marine debris, and citizen science.  Click here to download.


Operation Coral Cascade

CARTHE provided scientific support for an environmental safety exercise executed by the University of Miami Department of Emergency Management on December 3, 2015. 35 local, state, federal agencies, private industry, and higher education collaborated on this well organized test. Our biodegradable, GPS-equipped drifters were released at the time of the exercise and provided data for 11 days. Some went east into the Gulf Stream, while others gradually drifted south through Biscayne Bay. For more information, please visit our blog: carthe.org/blog/?p=435

Operation Coral Cascade from CARTHE on Vimeo.