NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Three Things You Should Know About Maro Reef

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. About 50 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Kyle and Dianna

After four days of transit, we arrived this morning at Maro Reef, where we plan to work for the rest of the week. The divers will start by methodically surveying the reef structure, based on maps produced by our in-house GIS team. They are looking for derelict nets to remove, but they are also checking the coral for injuries from the nets and any other oddities they find down there.  The marine debris team has not been to this area since 2009, so we are prepared for anything. We’ll post more about what we find, but in the meantime, here are three things you should know about Maro Reef:

IKONOS imagery of Maro Reef.

IKONOS imagery of Maro Reef.

1. Size and shape: According to the Monument:Maro Reef is the largest coral reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with over 1,934 square kilometers (approximately 746 square miles or 478,000 acres) of reef area. Unlike the classic ring-shaped atoll, Maro is a complex maze of linear reefs that radiate out from the center like the spokes of a wheel. It is named after the whaling ship Maro, which traveled these waters in 1820.”

2. Diver’s favorite fact: Maro Reef is known for murky water, strong currents, and Galapagos sharks. No doubt we will see a few.

3. Hawaiian name: Ko‘anako‘a

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Aloha from the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette!

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Dianna Parker

Mission Log 1

The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is on its way to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where – for about 33 days – a team of 17 trained divers from NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) will survey and remove derelict fishing nets and plastics from the sensitive coral reefs, shallow waters, and shorelines of the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The Sette will stop at Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and Midway Atoll.

Here’s the crew before embarking:

The crew poses outside the Sette before embarking on a marine debris removal mission in the NWHI.

The crew poses outside the Sette before embarking on a marine debris removal mission in the NWHI.

NOAA has led this marine debris removal mission for nearly 20 years, removing a total of 769 metric tons of debris. The efforts have varied in size year-to-year, depending on the available resources and partners, but one thing remains the same: huge amounts of marine debris collects in the Monument every year, threatening the corals and marine life that depend on this vast, pristine ecosystem.

Two NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) staffers – Pacific Islands regional coordinator Kyle Koyanagi and I – went along this year to help out. It can be hard to envision an operation this far away from any city – hundreds of miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands – so Kyle and I are bringing it to you. The MDP is a partner in this mission, along with NOAA’s Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, PIFSC, and the Monument.

Do you know what it takes to be a marine debris diver? Any idea how to say Papahānaumokuākea? We’ll post mission blogs on what it’s like to live aboard a NOAA ship, interviews with the crew, as well as factoids about each place we stop. Of course, we’ll let you know what marine debris we find there and how much we manage to remove.

You can follow along on this blog or read more in-depth about the issue on the Marine Debris Program website. If you have any questions for us, we’re also on Twitter, Facebook, and good old-fashioned email at


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What We Can Learn from North Carolina

By: Jason Rolfe

After spending three days with Lisa Rider last week, I know why she’s a local environmental legend. She does everything she can to eliminate marine debris from her home state of North Carolina and that’s a tall order. But Lisa has the energy, experience, and connections to make it happen.  As a bit of proof, she won this year’s Carolina Recycling Association Recycler of the Year award!  I was with Lisa and 30 of her closest green-thinking friends at her 2nd Annual Marine Debris Symposium. We discussed local cooperation and regional partnership opportunities to exchange information on recent developments, program ideas, and best management practices for marine debris prevention, education, and removal.

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I talked with the group about our NOAA Marine Debris Program and what we do nationally and in the Southeast to address marine debris. But what I found most valuable was learning from the scientists, government workers, waste management engineers, and educators who came from all over North Carolina to talk about their marine debris work. I was blown away by the depth of knowledge and passion that everyone brought to the Symposium.  After sharing updates and ideas during the days, we spent early afternoons out on the local beach and in a nearby bay cleaning up hundreds of cigarette butts, tiny pieces of foam, baby diapers, and even a 12 foot long garden hose complete with sprinkler attachment.  We cataloged all that we removed using the Marine Debris Tracker app – feel free to check out our haul!

The list below describes what’s been going on with marine debris in North Carolina and ways you could get involved. You can click on an activity or topic that interests you to find out more.  Do your part to help us rid our global ocean of marine debris.  C’mon, do something, even if it’s a small thing.  Lisa will be very proud of you!

Baby turtles safely make their way to the ocean thanks to these caring folks at Wrightsville Beach. For years, they’ve been cleaning up and recording what they find and they do their best to educate anyone who has a moment to learn about turtles, their nesting habits and ways that the public can help to keep the beaches open for turtle business.  Contact Ginger Taylor if you want to be part of the team!

sea turtleLocal Cleanups: Missed your chance to join an International Coastal Cleanup group but still want to do your part? Don’t fret; there are many other opportunities over the next few weeks with NC Big Sweep!

Shaping the marine debris field, professor and catalyst in the Southeast, Dr. Jenna Jambeck blogs about her experience. She’s also the brain behind many other marine debris initiatives as well as our very own Marine Debris Tracker app.

Through the Plastic Ocean Project, art and science come together to educate and motivate. And a whole lot more.

You know cigarette butts do not biodegrade, right?  They’re made mostly of plastic, affect marine animals, and as the most littered item found on our beaches, they cost a lot to cleanup.  So don’t throw your butt on the ground; use a personal ashtray!  Learn more from Keep America Beautiful.

Better recycling – cans, lids and signs oh my! Be sure to “twin the bin,” meaning, if you have an outdoor public access trash bin, it would be great if you could have a clearly marked and properly covered recycling bin secured right next to it.garbagebins

It’s better if we work together… to turn killer debris into vital habitat. North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Marine Patrol and local crab fishermen, partner to remove derelict crab pots that continue to trap crabs and other coastal animals long after the crabbing season is over.  Once they’re pulled out of the water, the pots are cleaned and made so that they can’t trap anymore, then they are dipped in mortar and ultimately put back in coastal waters to form a stable base for much needed oyster reef habitat!

Are you ready for the next big storm?  Did you move all the trash cans, lawn chairs and that kiddie pool inside before the wind turns them into marine debris? Learn more tips from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Want to know more about the impacts of derelict fishing gear? Keep your eyes open for a new paper coming out from North Carolina Sea Grant. They fund research and outreach that identifies and addresses the impacts of marine debris to coastal ecosystems and communities.  They’ve been working as a valuable resource for unbiased, scientifically sound information about the North Carolina’s coastal ecosystems since 1970!NCCB

Do you keep your boat at a marina?  Is it a certified North Carolina Clean Marina?  If not, perhaps, encourage your marina operators to fill out a simple application.  Once certified, they will be listed on NC’s State site and will receive a Clean Marina flag that they can fly proudly over their marina to prove they care enough about our coastal environment, and the local waters, to take the steps necessary to address trash and improve boating.   Do your part, too – find out how to be a certified NC Clean Boater and take responsibility for the waters around you!

Do you run a business in North Carolina?  Maybe you’re in charge of a weekend festival or you work at a hotel and you want to encourage hotel management to consider ways to reduce trash and increase recycling.  Follow a few tips from the NC Green Travel folks to save money AND prevent marine debris at the same time!  There is absolutely NO fee and it doesn’t take long to fill out the application.  Once your business or event is certified, you’d be listed on their website and get free advertising.

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The International Coastal Cleanup Turns the Tide on Trash

By: Asma Mahdi

What does fishing line, a miniature plastic toy dog, and a single use water bottle have in common? They’re all marine debris found at this year’s International Coastal Cleanup.

Volunteers across the country from the Eastern shores of the U.S. to the Hawaiian islands participated in the largest single-day, volunteer effort to help protect our oceans from trash. In California alone, volunteers prevented nearly 680,000 pounds of trash from entering our oceans – stopping it in its tracks.

Thank you to all volunteers who came out on Saturday to clean up our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Here’s a look at what NOAA volunteers across the nation found during the cleanup event:

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NOAA MDP funds 11 community-based marine debris removal projects

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program staff

The NOAA Marine Debris Program awarded $1,275,000 through NOAA’s Restoration Center to groups across the country to support locally-driven, community-based marine debris prevention and removal projects. Eleven groups received funding to remove derelict vessels, trash, debris from natural disasters, derelict fishing gear, and other harmful marine debris from shorelines and coastal waters. Through this grant program, NOAA has funded 87 marine debris removal projects and removed more than 4,800 metric tons of marine debris from our oceans since 2006.

“We are proud to continue to support marine debris removal projects around the country. These organizations will work to address the damage marine debris causes and help improve important ecosystems.”  said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program.

The projects last for approximately 24 months and have long-lasting ecological benefits. This year’s projects were chosen from a pool of 42 applications submitted by non-governmental organizations, tribes, academia and local government agencies. The combined request from all applications totaled nearly $5 million, demonstrating the widespread need to address marine debris across the country.

Photos from previous removal projects:

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This year’s projects include:

Alaska: Continuation of Critical Habitat Restoration

The Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation will locate, remove, catalog, weigh, and dispose of an estimated 51.6 metric tons of marine debris in or adjacent to state and federal critical habitat areas in Alaska.

California: Tijuana River NERR Marine Debris Clean-up and Reduction Program

The Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association will move debris from the Goat Canyon Sedimentation Basin to a landfill, using volunteers and youth corps members to remove trash from the Tijuana River watershed, repairing the debris basin trapping mechanisms, and educating students in Mexico about marine debris.

Florida: Environmental Action Initiative

Through this initiative, the Lake Worth Lagoon Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. will remove debris as small as single-use plastic bags and as large as sunken vessels. It is estimated that by removing these 31 vessels (17 sunken), it will account for 620,000 pounds of debris removed from the local marine environment. This will directly and immediately benefit local marine animal and plant species by allowing marine life a chance to recuperate from the debris impacts.

Hawai‘i: Inspiring Coastal Stewardship in Hawaii through Coastal Cleanups and Educational Outreach

Sustainable Coastlines, Hawaii will organize volunteer-driven beach cleanups on northeast Oahu to remove an estimated 5-10 tons of debris. They will also educate students and businesses within their communities.

New Jersey: Jamaica Bay Marine Debris Removal and Data-driven Prevention Pilot Project

Over a two year period, the American Littoral Society will remove 57.23 metric tons of debris from multiple sites in Jamaica Bay in New York City, including Dubos Point Wildlife Sanctuary.

New York: Long Island Sound Deep Water Derelict Lobster Gear Assessment, Removal and Prevention

Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE) will assess the extent and distribution of derelict lobster gear and the condition of lobsters and other unintentionally ensnared wildlife in the Long Island Sound. CCE will employ active commercial lobstermen to remove derelict gear. When possible, intact and identifiable gear will be returned to the original owner while unsalvageable gear will be recycled at a waste-to-energy facility or metals recycler.

Michigan: A Better Belle Isle: Marine Debris Removal and Prevention

The Alliance for the Great Lakes and partners aim to remove 250 tons of debris and naturalize and stabilize 150 linear feet of shoreline and coastal wetland using native plants and natural rock on Belle Isle in Michigan.

South Carolina: Using Community-Based Initiatives for Marine Debris Removal and Restoration of Essential Fish Habitats in the Charleston Harbor Watershed

South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium’s project will remove thirteen derelict vessels weighing approximately 22-26 tons from the Charleston Harbor watershed, improving both the safety of navigable waterways and the health of essential fish habitat. In addition, approximately 15 tons of marine debris (primarily unwanted fishing gear) will be collected and disposed of during three county-wide Clean Marine events that will provide opportunities for individuals to dispose of unwanted fishing and boating gear.

US Virgin Islands : Removal of Marine Debris from shorelines and shallow mangrove and seagrass habitat with accompanying community education and outreach program

The Coral Bay Community Council, Inc. (CBCC) will remove 6-12 derelict vessels weighing about 12 metric tons that have been grounded, beached or sunk in the mangroves of Coral Harbor in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Removal of these vessels will reduce the number of hazards within shallow water and protect the often battered mangroves and abraded seagrass. Volunteers will assist in shoreline and mangrove clean-up efforts to remove an additional metric ton of debris. CBCC will develop a marine debris reduction and monitoring program, place a dumpster and recycling bins near the dock, and implement public outreach to encourage reduction in marine debris pollution.

Washington: Student Conservation Association NOAA Community-based Marine Debris Removal Project

The Student Conservation Association, Inc. (SCA) and partners will work with community volunteers to educate local residents about their coastline and will remove an anticipated 560 tons of marine debris.

Washington: Washington Derelict Gear Removal Project

The Nature Conservancy will remove derelict crab pots from 155 square miles of habitat within and outside the Quinault Indian Nation Special Management Area. This work will build on knowledge gained from previous NOAA-funded Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife removal efforts and use new locally-piloted removal techniques.

NOAA’s Restoration Center is now accepting applications for the next funding cycle. Applications are due November 17, 2014. For more information, visit:


Countdown to the International Coastal Cleanup


A wave of volunteer-action is about to hit your local beach, river, or lake this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the annual International Coastal Cleanup! Are you ready for the ride?

With thousands of sites worldwide, you can dive in and be part of the solution to prevent marine debris from entering our oceans and Great Lakes. To join a cleanup near you, pick a location by visiting Ocean Conservancy’s site map, and tell us where you will be using the hashtag #FreeofDebris.

See you on Saturday!

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Back to School: An Educator’s Guide to Marine Debris

In an effort to bring students new science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based marine debris lessons, we present An Educator’s Guide to Marine Debris. In this guide, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the North American Marine Environment Protection Association designed a variety of lessons and many fun facts to use with students.

In ‘It’s All Downstream From Here…’ students are asked to collect, sort, and analyze classroom trash and make inferences about the sources and solutions. Understanding the effects of marine debris and creating a plan to take personal responsibility is one of many beneficial outcomes of this guide.

You can download the guide from our website and start a conversation with your students about science, marine debris, and environmental stewardship.




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