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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 GPS-equipped 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 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. Each card is coded so the Project Team can identify where it was deployed (please include a photo when reporting cards).  Additionally, 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.



Of the 320 drift cards released on September 12, 2016, 37 have been recovered and reported via #BayDrift or BayDriftMiami@gmail.com.  Click on the images below to see where the drift cards and drifters have gone. (Colored square indicates 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

Recovered Drift Card

Recovered Drift Cards



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.


Partner Organizations:


Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

Frost Science Museum

Miami Waterkeeper

Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation-Piano Slam

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves

Surfrider Foundation

Bill Baggs State Park

International Seakeepers Society

Key Biscayne Citizen Science Project

DEEP Foundation

Deering Estate

Biscayne National Park


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

     If you have any questions or if you’d like to get involved, please email BayDriftMiami@gmail.com.


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.