Call to Action

Abby Braman standing in a creek.

Master Naturalist starts citizen-science movement

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

In 2016, Abby Braman was a newcomer to Mississippi, and she began looking for places where she could enjoy the outdoors as she did growing up in New Jersey.

But, as she began kayaking and hiking in the Jackson area, including in the Ross Barnett Reservoir, LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, and Liberty Park, she noticed a problem.

“One thing that I immediately noticed and that frustrated me was the amount of trash and plastic pollution,” explains Braman.

She couldn’t ignore it and decided to do something about it. Her efforts started out small. She did what she calls “minicleanups” herself and posted photos on social media. This led her to start the Take2Miss social media campaign.

Braman encouraged people to pick up at least two pieces of trash, take a photo, and post it to social media with the hashtag #Take2Miss. As of September 2019, over 5,000 Instagram photos have been posted by people all over the world who have been inspired by the campaign to do their own mini-cleanups.

Around the time she started the campaign, Braman learned about Dr. Eric Sparks’s research on marine pollution. Sparks is a coastal ecology specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

 “Abby has made significant contributions to improving the quality of soil, water, and air across Mississippi.”

— Dr. Adam Rohnke

“I was inspired by his work with microplastics and the large-scale beach cleanups he organizes,” says Braman.

As she was trying to find a way to focus more on clean water initiatives, she discovered the Waterkeeper Alliance, a worldwide association with more than 300 member organizations working to keep local watersheds clean. She formed Mississippi’s first watershed alliance, the Pearl Riverkeeper, in August 2017.

The organization consists of trained volunteer teams who work to keep the river clean along its 490-mile stretch, from its headwaters in Nanih Waiya through Jackson and to the Gulf Coast. The group’s signature and largest event is the annual Pearl River Clean Sweep, which helps educate the public and bring attention to pollution.

Since 2017, more than 1,700 volunteers have removed 67,000 pounds of trash from the river’s watershed. Some volunteers serve as Water Rangers, who perform water-quality testing weekly during the summer. These tests indicate if waters are safe for swimming.

When Braman met Sparks, he encouraged her to become a Mississippi Master Naturalist through the MSU Extension program that provides training and certification in natural resources conservation. It was a perfect companion to her grassroots work, and she became a certified Master Naturalist in the summer of 2018.

“The course was an amazing opportunity to spend time with people from all walks of life who share my passion for nature and conservation,” says Braman, who holds a bachelor’s degree in marine science. “The lectures given by subject-matter experts were priceless. They were enthusiastic and made the course fun. The other students in the class, as well as other Master Naturalist alumni, are keystones in our Pearl Riverkeeper volunteer base.

“Master Naturalists not only share a love of conservation but also a spirit of volunteerism. Many are members of our Clean Water Team, Water Rangers citizen-science group, and Pearl River Clean Sweep crews. I am very thankful for the education and networking provided by the Mississippi Master Naturalist program!”

Braman earned the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s 2018 Soil, Air, and Water Conservationist of the Year award. Dr. Adam Rohnke, Extension wildlife specialist and coordinator for the central Mississippi chapter of the Master Naturalists, says this was a fitting tribute.

“Abby has made significant contributions to improving the quality of soil, water, and air across Mississippi,” he says. “Although she’s only been in Mississippi a few years, she has made a lifetime of impact through her efforts.”

MSU Extension Service
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