NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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‘Debris Day’ on the Anacostia River with Living Classrooms

By: Leah Henry

On October 24, 162 fourth and fifth graders raced across a beautiful wooden bridge, arching over the Anacostia River, excited to participate in hands-on environmental activities.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program was one of many Debris Day educators at Washington D.C.’s Kingman Island on Friday. Organized by Living Classrooms, this year’s Debris Day, which included cleaning trash from the park, was a huge success, bringing in more organizations and more students than previous years. The students spent the day rotating through nine different stations, laughing, learning, and playing the whole time.

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They spun the marine debris wheel of knowledge and read the question out-loud to their peers; some blurted out their answers, others consulted quietly with a neighbor, while others waited patiently with their hands raised. Even if they didn’t get the answer correct, they all left with a mental reminder that they play a big part in preventing marine debris.

Each group bounded from our table with marine debris calendars, activity books, and encouragement to help us spread the word to their friends and family.


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The Clean Community-Clean Coasts project debuts a Marine Debris Sculpture at the St. Petersburg, FL Science Festival

By: Kim Albins

At this year’s fourth annual St. Petersburg Science Festival I met one of our new Prevention through Education and Outreach partners from the University of South Florida – College of Marine Science.  Their project, Clean Community-Clean Coast (4 C’s for short), has the goal of bringing the community of St. Petersburg together to prevent marine debris and to change behavior related to littering. The opening act of the project was a massive, colorful marine debris sculpture. ‘The Current Collections’ a 40ft wide and 30ft high ocean gyre-like sculpture created quite a buzz at Science Fest and received international press coverage.

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Children across St. Petersburg helped create parts of the sculpture this past summer turning their trash and marine debris into unique artistic elements for the structure.

At the festival, many school groups received a special ‘sneak peak’ of exhibits and participated in educational games. The festival also featured more than 90 hands-on interactive exhibits drawing thousands of people.  Children and adults alike were impressed by the ‘Current Collections’ sculpture and the message about marine debris. Fun (and learning) was had by all!

The sculpture will remain in St. Petersburg for the next six-months and return to Science Festival in St. Petersburg in 2015.

Watch this video to learn how this impressive art and science collaboration came together.

Video Caption: Tom Cawthon of the Poynter Institute filmed/edited the video which shows the key steps in the five-day onsite construction process of the new Current Collections sculpture made from reclaimed plastics and steel in Poytner Park, St. Petersburg. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies will help tell the Clean Coast story and support neighborhood civic engagement via the “Clean Community Forums.”


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Post Storm Sandy – A multi-tiered approach to surveying and coordinating

By: Ron Ohrel

Following Post Tropical Storm Sandy, NOAA invested significant resources toward charting the impacted coastline, identifying potential hazards to navigation, and helping partners remove marine debris that threatened to harm sensitive ecosystems. NOAA accomplished this through a combination of aerial, underwater, and shoreline surveys.

Due to differences in response activities across the states impacted by this storm, it was important to coordinate marine debris survey and response efforts at all levels of government. NOAA managed hydrographic survey operations in more than 800 square miles of Sandy-impacted waterways along the Eastern seaboard. The data acquired through those efforts is being used to update nautical charts, model flood events, and identify marine debris for potential removal.

NOAA data shows general locations of underwater obstructions along the New York and northern New Jersey coastlines. These data are helping to inform decisions on nautical charts, coastal resiliency planning, and marine debris recovery efforts.

NOAA data shows general locations of underwater obstructions along the New York and northern New Jersey coastlines. These data are helping to inform decisions on nautical charts, coastal resiliency planning, and marine debris recovery efforts.

The hydrographic survey work revealed nearly 10,000 possible underwater obstructions in Sandy-affected areas between Delaware and Connecticut. In addition, to assess Sandy debris conditions in wetlands, marshes, and other sensitive areas, NOAA compared pre- and post-Sandy aerial imagery of the mid-Atlantic coastline. Comparing post-Sandy data with information collected prior to the storm gives an indication of Sandy’s marine debris impacts in shallow water and shoreline areas.

NOAA aerial imagery helped the state of Connecticut identify debris hotspots caused by Sandy. Those locations are shown here. Through a formal agreement between NOAA and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state received $752,822 to assist its efforts to remove debris from sensitive wetlands. The work will begin this autumn.

NOAA aerial imagery helped the state of Connecticut identify debris hotspots caused by Sandy. Those locations are shown here. Through a formal agreement between NOAA and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state received $752,822 to assist its efforts to remove debris from sensitive wetlands. The work will begin this autumn.

NOAA has entered its survey data into a centralized database and shared much of that data with state partners. The data outputs helped the states prioritize some of their marine debris removal efforts. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, for example, used NOAA data to target debris clusters in eight different coastal wetlands for removal this autumn. The work will allow the state to restore natural tidal marshes along its coastline.

Using survey data for multiple purposes is an efficient use of NOAA’s survey data collection and mapping resources, and assists a variety of stakeholders in many different ways.


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Bottle Caps, Lighters, and Birds Don’t Mix: Cleaning Up Marine Debris at Midway Atoll

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 9

The marine debris removal mission isn’t entirely about derelict fishing gear. For several days, our team removed thousands of pieces of plastics and other marine debris from two tiny islands at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The variety of litter we found on Midway Atoll, a little wildlife paradise more than 1,000 miles from any city, was astounding. Each team surveyed several transects of shoreline, cleaning up debris 10 centimeters or larger in size. Bottle caps, cigarette lighters, and small floats were an exception, since birds eat them. We picked up 7,436 hard plastic fragments, 3,748 bottle caps, 1,469 plastic beverage bottles, 477 lighters, dozens of buoys, ropes, and floats, toys, toothbrushes, laundry baskets, shipping crates, a firefighter’s hat, and other remnants of human consumption and commercial fishing activity.

Cleaning up shorelines is less physically taxing than diving for derelict nets, but it can be brutal in its own way. Each pile of miscellaneous debris, no matter how heavy, has to be carried and waded out to the small boats, which are positioned off shore. Everything gets packed into enormous, 42 gallon bags in the boat and transported back to a pier on Midway’s main island. Each bag weighs more than 200 pounds with all the debris packed inside.

Then there’s “the sort,” which is exactly what it sounds like: we dumped everything on the pier, sorted it into categories, and tallied it up. It was chaotic – 243 bottle caps here! 20 hard buoys over! – and very dirty. Gloves and a tolerance for foul smells were a must.

Divers on the marine debris removal mission prepare to sort through a pile of debris.

Divers on the marine debris removal mission prepare to sort through a pile of debris.

The marine debris removal team has done this cleanup at Midway Atoll for several years now, and besides the ultimate goal of cleaner beaches for wildlife, the data collection gives us information about the debris. On one beach, we did an accumulation survey using NOAA Marine Debris Program protocols, which can help us better understand how fast debris accumulates and whether there are any debris “hotspots.”

Midway Atoll is a fascinating place – not only because of its abundance of wildlife, but because of its tremendous history, including its pivotal role in World War II. It was a U.S. Naval Air Station, submarine base, and site of the Battle of Midway, a turning point of the war in the Pacific. Much of the Navy’s original infrastructure is still there.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the atoll, protecting the remaining historical presence in addition to the wildlife. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals, turtles, and a pod of spinner dolphins live there. Nearly three million birds, including the world’s largest population of albatross, nest on the islands.

Marine debris from a bird carcass at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Marine debris from a bird carcass at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

As we walked the beaches, we saw dozens of bird carcasses with brightly colored plastics spilling out of their stomach cavities. We do not know whether the plastic caused any of their deaths, but it’s still a jarring sight. It’s an indicator of just how far our marine debris problem goes: Midway Atoll is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and none of these birds feed anywhere near an urban center.


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Where Are All of These Derelict Nets Coming From?

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 8

Each time we pull up a huge, stinky, algae-covered tangle of fishing nets into our boat, the same thought crosses my mind: where in the world did this come from?

We know that they are used for commercial fishing activity – but whose? How long have they been tumbling through the ocean and why are so many ending up on these tiny, remote islands and atolls?  Can we trace them to their source?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

To get some more insight into why this issue is so complex, I spoke with Amy MacFadyen, an oceanographer and modeler with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, and Jim Potemra, an oceanographer at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Check it out.

 


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Marine Debris Divers Find Potential Tsunami Debris in Pearl and Hermes Atoll

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 7

A few days into operations at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, the marine debris divers stumbled across three fishing boats from Japan. Similar boats that were torn away from Japan during the 2011 tsunami have turned up in Hawaii, the West Coast of the United States, and Canada over the past three years.

Both of the recovered boats were found upside down in the atoll.

Both of the recovered boats were found upside down in the atoll.

Two of the 30-foot boats were found floating upside down in the atoll. They appear to be in good condition with minimal biofouling and intact registration numbers. The Sette crew was able to lift them both on board, so they will return to Honolulu with us and our nets. From there, we can work with the Japan consulate to confirm whether they were indeed lost during the tsunami and then try to identify their owners.

The third boat was submerged in the water and too damaged to tow; the divers noted its location and continued surveying but were unable to locate it again when they returned.

If the two boats are indeed tsunami debris, it will bring the total number of items found within the Monument to six. In 2012 and 2013, two other boats were located at Midway Atoll, along with a sign and a blue seafood bin.

To date, NOAA has received approximately 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its DisasterDebris@noaa.gov email address. We have positively identified 53 of those items as debris from the tsunami.


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Heading to Dry Land: Lisianski Island

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 6

We’re leaving Pearl and Hermes Atoll for the day and heading over to Lisianski Island to pick up derelict nets on the shoreline. Nets are still an entanglement hazard for the Monument’s wildlife even when they’re on land; it’s not uncommon to see a Hawaiian monk seal lounging on a large pile of them.

Lisianski Island is a tiny piece of land, so our team should be able to clean it in no time. After that, we’ll head back to Pearl and Hermes Atoll to finish up. We’ve been finding some interesting debris there — but I’ll have more on that later. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the island:

IKONOS satellite imagery of Lisianski Island.

IKONOS satellite imagery of Lisianski Island.

1. Size and shape: According to the Monument, “About 20 million years ago, geologic forces raised the tip of a huge coral bank above sea level. Today, Lisianski Island is 1.5 square kilometers (381 acres), about the size of Honolulu. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet above sea level. Though the island is small, the reef area to the southeast, called Neva Shoals, is huge, covering 979 square kilometers(241,916 acres), an area nearly the size of O`ahu.”

2. Diver’s favorite fact: There are flies at Lisianski Island. A lot of them.

3. Hawaiian name: Papa‘āpoho

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