Greater Farallones Association – Shotgun Wads

No silver bullet: Changing hunter behavior to reduce shotgun wad debris in the San Francisco Bay Area

In recent years, the issue of marine debris has gained significant worldwide attention and legislative, educational, and management strategies have been developed to address impacts from certain types of marine debris: plastic bag bans, microbead bans, and cigarette abatement programs. The issue of plastic shotgun wad debris has received little to no attention despite its pervasive presence throughout the global marine environment.

When a shotgun is fired, the wad – the plastic piece of a shotgun shell that is used to separate the shot from the powder – falls away in midair. These wads, when fired over water, contribute to ocean plastic pollution. Shotgun wads have been found on beaches all over the Bay Area, in the stomachs of albatross and built into the nests of gannets. 

The Greater Farallones Association, the non-profit partner of the federal Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, found shotgun wads to be one of the top five most common debris items on all six of GFAs managed survey sites. These shotgun wads are thought to come from waterfowl hunting, year-round shooting ranges, and target shooting fields along the San Francisco Bay and Delta. Once shot out of a gun, the clear plastic wads can be difficult to locate and properly dispose of, and can end up in the environment, the San Francisco Bay, and the ocean.

We worked with the Greater Farallones Association to reduce plastic shotgun wads on north-central California coastal beaches. Through audience research, we arrived at an audience and behavior on which to focus our initiative. While using compostable wads seems ideal, there are structural impediments to procuring these, and among other things, it is illegal to purchase any ammunition online in California. Instead we focused the campaign on wad retrieval. Waterfowl hunters can reduce the harm wads cause to sea life and the marine ecosystem by picking up the wads they see washed up on shore. Our Behavioral Determinants Analysis revealed that conservation is a large part of waterfowl hunters’ identities, so our initiative made use of language aligned with hunters’ conservationist legacies and identities, such as “resource conservation” and “hunters leave no trace.” Overall, we found that because of this commitment to conservation, hunters were receptive to our initiative, and we were able to work together to encourage the community to pick up their shotgun wads. 

In our pilot program to encourage these behaviors, shotgun wad disposal receptacles were installed for three weeks in January 2020 at two hunting reserves in San Francisco Bay: Don Edwards San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge and Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. In-person interviews and surveys with hunters and reserve managers provided valuable insight on receptacle size, type, and location, and educational signage. The results of the pilot project affirmed that a behavior change campaign is an effective way to address this type of marine debris that can be easily connected to a specific activity and location.

The Greater Farallones Association is a nonprofit seeking to help ensure the ecosystem within Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary remains a biologically diverse and globally significant ocean environment. They work to sustain a healthy and resilient ocean through conservation, science, education, and community involvement.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is the U.S. Federal government’s lead for addressing marine debris. With a mission to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris, NOAA operates through six main pillars: Prevention, Removal, Research, Monitoring and Detection, Response, and Coordination. Since its inception, NOAA has strived to help find solutions to the marine debris problem and envisions the global ocean and its coast free from the impacts of marine debris.