How I Found Belonging and Community Through Nurdles

I joined NYU Abu Dhabi because of all the advantages that come with a diverse student body: expansive and insightful conversations, building a global network, and learning about the world outside my small city of Mwanza in Tanzania. 

In this diversity, I have experienced different cultures, personalities, and interests. But I also find myself wanting to have a sense of belonging during my university  experience. 

I dedicated my entire first and second year of university trying to find a community and explore life beyond the NYUAD campus — I believe these enhancements are necessary for a well-rounded liberal arts education. 

After consulting a number of resources on campus, the common advice I got was this: “Get involved in things that interest you and you will definitely find community.” 

Having an extensive background in community service from my volunteering activities in Tanzania, I knew that finding a way to serve the larger Abu Dhabi community is what interests me. This was when I found the Office of Community Outreach (OCO) through a student assistantship job posting. OCO creates volunteering and service learning opportunities, fostering engagement between NYUAD and the larger Abu Dhabi community. It was an ideal vessel to connect me with the Abu Dhabi community through service. 

It was here that I learned that OCO is also popularly known among students as the “Nurdle Hunt Office.” 

Nurdles? I was intrigued.

Nurdles: A Huge Source of Ocean Pollution

I learned that nurdles are small plastic pellets used to make most of our plastic products. Millions of nurdles ended up washing ashore each year during transportation. Birds and marine animals often mistake nurdles for food, inevitably falling sick after ingesting them. For animals that survive, possible toxic chemicals from the nurdles remain inside their bodies, and over time, go further into the food chain and end up on some of our dinner plates. 

The NYUAD Nurdle Hunt organized by OCO is a regular and much awaited event where volunteers from the University as well as from the Abu Dhabi community compete to collect as many nurdles as possible on Saadiyat beach. Some volunteers from past events were so impacted by the amount of nurdles found that they have taken initiatives to reduce plastic waste in their homes like switching to bar soaps, eliminating single-use plastic water bottles, and collecting nurdles on beaches in different parts of the world.

A person holding a single nurdle between her fingers.
A collection of nurdles found along the beach on Saadiyat island, Abu Dhabi.

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How to Nurdle Hunt During the Pandemic

While the COVID-19 has temporarily stopped the gathering of groups to do a nurdle hunt, it doesn’t mean our efforts came to a halt. Socially distanced nurdle hunters can bring their own containers or bags to collect nurdles and trash respectively. You can drop your nurdles at the Bodyism fitness gym inside the Jumeirah Saadiyat Island Resort, one of the first hotels in the United Arab Emirates to ban single-use plastics (email Bodyism at bodyism.saadiyat@jumeirah.com or call 02-811-4366 before dropping off your nurdles).

The collected nurdles will be handed over to NYUAD’s Smart Materials Lab for analysis. In June 2021, NYUAD students working on these collected nurdles won the first prize in the UAE's 8th Undergraduate Research Competition, the largest student research competition in the Arab world. The number of collected nurdles also feeds data into FIDRA, an environmental charity group in the UK that is gathering information on the prevalence of plastic pellets to inform wider dialogue with industry and governments in the global fight against plastic pollution. 

By virtue of simply being an NYUAD student, I realized that I am already a part of an extensive student body that has a strong desire to serve the environment, and are dedicated to true impact and making the world a better place. 

This is a community that extends beyond the bounds of the campus and into the city, connecting me with Abu Dhabi residents who are also passionate about environmental conservation. This is a community that I am proud to call my home away from home.