NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Japanese Village Sign Found in Hawaii Returns Home

By: Dianna Parker

A large weathered sign that was once part of a Japanese village is going home today, thanks to collaboration between the State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Japanese officials. Hawaiian Airlines will fly the sign from Honolulu to Sendai Airport, where a delegation from Tanohata village will greet it.

The sign, which was ripped from Tanohata in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, washed up on Kahuku Beach in Oahu, Hawaii last September. After learning that the sign’s broken lettering says “Shimanokoshi village housing,” NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources were able to work with the Japanese consulate in Hawaii to determine its origin.

When they learned the sign had been found, representatives from Tanohata requested that the irreplaceable memento be returned. DLNR approached Hawaiian Airlines for assistance, and they volunteered to ship the sign back on a routine flight at no cost.

“This effort is a great example of collaboration between government agencies and industry, working together toward the spirit of Aloha and goodwill,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program. “We hope to continue strengthening these partnerships to assist the Japanese people as they recover.”

According to Japan Counsel General Toyoei Shigeeda, based in Honolulu, the village will use it as an exhibit “for future generations to learn about and understand the tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011.” He said, “We’re all excited that now, more than three years after the tsunami, this sign can be returned as a reminder and symbol of what was lost.”

NOAA has received more than 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its email address, but only about 45 have been definitively traced back to the tsunami. Twenty of those items were found in Hawaii.


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Southeast: Educators SORT it out

By: Leah Henry

The Southeast United States has over 18,000 miles of diverse tidal shoreline, including rocky cliffs, sand dunes, grasslands, wetlands, and mangrove forests. It provides valuable habitat to wildlife, as well as places for marine debris to accumulate.

On July 7, fifteen motivated elementary through high school level educators filed into the Project SORT Marine Debris Workshop with tote bags and smiles, eager to learn more about the environmental threat marine debris poses to their region and what they can do to prevent it. For one week in Savannah, Georgia these educators lived and breathed marine debris.

During the workshop, they heard about the latest marine debris science and research, and everyone had a chance to get their hands dirty during teacher-led activities. These educators learned about different types of marine debris from storm generated debris to microbeads, how to be better ocean stewards through citizen science and shoreline monitoring, and how to engage students in field microscope construction and marine debris video game design using existing or free resources.

“When we did the survey this week, we found tiny micro plastics in the sand from Tybee Island that came from the ocean, and when we did the macro plastics survey on Wassaw Island (a national wildlife refuge), we found litter and lots of nets, fishing line, and other debris that had washed up on shore.” said Casey Woods, elementary school teacher at Cedar Ridge.

In one activity, educators placed plastics of all kinds in a small salt water tank. They noted which types of plastic floated, sank, or became suspended in the middle. This information is important when we consider which animals come into contact with plastic in the wild. Some marine animals live and feed at the surface, while others feed on the bottom or somewhere in between. Pairing the plastic’s position with the animal’s location could help educators and their students ponder which types of plastic might pose the highest threat to a marine animal.

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The workshop also featured the Project SORT team’s demonstration of newly designed classroom activities at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, where workshop participants received copies to assist them in their classrooms.

We look forward to seeing how all the educators successfully incorporate marine debris into their existing curriculum and encourage their students to become ocean stewards too!

The Project SORT Workshop was led by Dodie Sanders and funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention through Outreach and Education grant.


Keep “The Land of the Free,” Free of Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

On Friday night, many of us from coast to coast will watch spectacular fireworks takeover starry skies with brightly colored chrysanthemum bursts of red, white, and blue. It’s the Fourth of July – a day for friends and families to rejoice in our nation’s independence and jump into summertime festivities. It’s often an afterthought, but after the bursts of lights cease and the crowd clears, who’s going to clean-up the mess?

The morning after a fireworks display, not surprisingly, is a dirty day at the beach. Pieces of litter can easily be traced back to activities from the day before with a noticeable increase in firework debris along the coastline. You can find spent plastic shells, tubes, wings, and other small remnants in pockets where fireworks launched just a day before. These plastic pieces, especially hard plastics, are a potential human health hazard, with a risk of injury, and can be easily mistaken for food by marine animals, especially birds.

There are simple steps we can all take to prevent this debris from entering the ocean. If you plan to celebrate this Fourth of July with fireworks, keep the “land of the free,” free of debris:

  • Most importantly, be safe and make sure it is legal to use fireworks in your state. Check this listing at to see your state’s firework regulation laws. Local regulations vary, so be sure to check those out, too.
  • Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to learn how to properly and safely handle and dispose of used fireworks.
  • Volunteer for a beach cleanup after the Fourth of July to help remove debris left behind.

There are several cleanups events nationwide. Participate in one of these post-celebration beach cleanups or find a cleanup near your region:

Washington: Host: via Grassroots Garbage Gang, Long Beach Peninsula Saturday, July 5

Oregon: Host: SOLVE Seaside Beach Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Northern California: Host: Save our Shores Various sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey County Friday, July 4th (noon – 4pm), and Saturday, July 5 (8am – 10am)

Southern California: Host: Heal the Bay Manhattan Beach Saturday, July 19, 10am – noon

Hawaii: Host: ProjectAware Magic Island Beach Cleanup Saturday, July 5, 8am – noon

Great Lakes: Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Various locations at times, click link for more info Saturday, July 5

New Hampshire: Host: Blue Ocean Society Jenness Beach Wed, July 9, 6:30 PM

Massachusetts: Host: Surfride Foundation, MassachusettsChristian A Herter Park Sat, July 12, 2:30pm – 4:30pm

Florida: Host: City of Maderia Beach Archibald Park Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Florida: Host: Keepers of the Coast Various locations Saturday, July 5, 5pm – 7pm



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Not Just Hot Air: Celebrate July 4 Without Balloon Releases

By: Leah Henry

Releasing a helium-filled balloon into the air may seem liberating, symbolic, and even celebratory. It is also littering, because after balloons go up, they also come down.

Being that over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water, the chance that the deflated balloon will land in a receptacle instead of our ocean is highly unlikely. In fact, volunteers all over the country often find balloons when doing marine debris cleanups.

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So why does this matter? Those lifeless pieces of rubber, latex, or plastic wind up in the ocean, where marine animals may mistake them for food and eat them - blocking the animal from eating the food it needs to stay alive. Sadly, the strings or ribbons can wrap around their necks, fins, or flippers, cutting into their flesh causing severe damage or preventing them from hunting.

If you use balloons for a celebration, please don’t release them into the air. For outdoor celebrations, here are some alternatives:

  • Plant a ceremonious tree.
  • Use pinwheels from used materials.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Dedicate a park bench.

If you do use balloons, secure them tightly and think twice before you let go!

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This 4th of July, Don’t Feed the Animals…Your Plastic

By: Dianna Parker

For many Americans, the Fourth of July holiday weekend is the prime time to head to nearest river, lake, or beach and picnic outdoors. If you’re like me, you do both activities at the same time. What could be better than drinking lemonade and eating summertime food with a view of the water? Top 10 Marine Debris Items Collected.

While you’re out there having fun this year, we challenge you to do your part and keep any trash from your picnic out of the water. According to data from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, most of the top items cleaned up from shorelines across the country were plastic and food-related.  Cigarette butts (made of plastic!) were number one, but take a look at the rest. Food wrappers, plastic  beverage bottles and caps, straws, and grocery bags round out the top six. Beverage cans also make the list at number 10.

These statistics mean we must do more to better manage our trash, and it can start with you. Here are some tips to keep in mind for your picnic “pack in and pack out”:

1. Find alternatives to single-use plastics. If you have a reusable thermos for drinks or a lunchbox for stashing sandwiches, then use them!

2. If you use any recyclable plastics, make sure they make it into a recycling bin. We can’t recover plastics if they’re sitting in landfills.

3. Before you leave, scan your picnic area for any rogue trash that fell on the ground and pick it up.

4. If a trash can is overflowing, then find another one. Wind, rain, or scavengers could scatter the overflowing trash and increase its chances of reaching the ocean. In other words, don’t do this:

An overflowing trash can on the beach in North Carolina: Credit: Danielle Richardet

An overflowing trash can on the beach in North Carolina: Credit: Danielle Richardet

Taking these easy steps will not only keep the beach clean for others to enjoy, but it may help out wildlife as well. Here’s the thing about plastic: when it goes in the water, it doesn’t degrade. Instead, it breaks apart into tiny pieces. Some species of animals mistake these tiny pieces for food, and eating them can cause serious injury. They will thank you for keeping their habitat clean, and so will we.

Happy Independence Day, and happy picnicking!

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Two local artists put marine debris on display

By: Keith Cialino

Each new Atlantic storm pounds the shore with empty bottles, lost cigarette lighters, forgotten beach toys, discarded coffee cups, and enough plastic utensils to stock a small cafeteria. Now, local artists are using marine debris as a new medium to express their views.

The NOAA Restoration Center and NOAA Marine Debris Program organized an exhibit at the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) featuring  local artwork created from marine debris.

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The Angry Ocean Project, by Kathy Abbott, is made from a combination of trash found on local beaches and real marine animal artifacts (fish, shellfish, etc.). Kathy’s creatures emerge from the ocean to show the toll that plastic pollution has on marine life. Each week in June, a different family of creatures rotates through the NOAA building’s first floor.

Catch What Whales Shouldn’t Have to Eat by Nina Samoiloff: This project is part archaeology, photography, sculpture, and environmentalism. It serves as a collective testament to the blind eye we turn to excess packaging and products and the often careless disposal of them. In her artwork and in her blog, CatchWhatWhaleShouldntHavetoEat, Nina documents her daily collection and discoveries.

The public can view their work Monday-Friday, now through July 11 from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the NOAA GARFO building at 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA.

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Illinois Bans Plastic Microbeads from Personal Care Products

By: Nancy Wallace

A microbead found in Kittery, ME. Photo: Rozalia Project.

A microbead found in Kittery, ME. Photo: Rozalia Project.

This month, Illinois became the first state to ban the production, manufacture, or sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads. The industry-supported ban comes after a study released last year by researchers at 5 Gyres and SUNY Fredonia showed high levels of microplastics, including the beads, in the Great Lakes.

State legislatures in California, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio are considering bans or other legislation on plastic microbeads, citing concern over how these plastic pieces will impact fish and other wildlife. Some major manufacturers, including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and L’Oreal have also pledged to phase plastic microbeads out of their products and search for alternatives.

Many face washes and body scrubs contain tiny plastic spheres – sometimes labeled “microscrubbers” – meant to exfoliate skin. Take a look at the ingredient lists on personal care bottles; if they say polyethylene and polypropylene, then there is plastic in them. Once rinsed off, the beads go down the drain. In most cases, they are so tiny that they slip through wastewater treatment plants and into nearby waterways.

When microbeads enter the marine environment or Great Lakes, they are considered a form of “microplastic” marine debris. Microplastics come from several sources. They are sometimes manufactured small, such as microbeads or resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing. Or, they are shards of what used to be larger plastic items, such as bottles or containers that found their way into the environment. NOAA defines microplastics as any plastic smaller than 5 mm in size.

Plastics never really go away when they’re in rivers, oceans, or lakes. Instead, they can last decades, fragmenting over and over again into small pieces. There’s an unknown amount of microplastics in our environment, but they are turning up everywhere, even in Arctic sea ice.

The big deal is that some species of marine life mistake plastic for food, especially bite-sized microplastics. Scientists across the world, including here at NOAA, are working to better understand exactly how microplastics and the chemicals in them impact wildlife once they’re ingested – or if the chemicals transfer through the food web.

Removing unnecessary plastic microbeads in cosmetics won’t take care of the microplastics problem in the ocean and Great Lakes entirely, but it eliminates one known source. The recent movement in Illinois is a great example of how industry, government, non-profits, and academia can come together to implement action. As we continue finding solutions to marine debris, let’s remember that these kinds of collaborative efforts are critical to our success.

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Waving Down Action: Teen Marine Debris Summit

By: Asma Mahdi

Teen Marine Debris Summit participants gather after presenting their preliminary marine debris projects to the public at Mystic Aquarium

Teen Marine Debris Summit participants gather after presenting their preliminary marine debris projects to the public at Mystic Aquarium

Solutions. That’s what the next wave of future ocean scientists will come up with. For this generation, it’s not about just mitigating the problems our oceans face, but rather preventing and solving them altogether. At the Teen Marine Debris Summit in Connecticut last weekend, high school students from around New England had to find ways to educate Mystic Aquarium visitors about one of the most pervasive problems that our oceans face today – marine debris. Needless to say: Game. On.

After immersing in “trash talking” about the impacts of derelict fishing gear on fragile habitats, such as coral reefs, and the pervasive use of plastics in our everyday lives, the students engaged in hands-on learning.  They cleaned up a local shoreline and hunted for debris using an underwater ROV. Afterward, the students put their experience and knowledge to test. Four student-led teams brainstormed outreach activities, focusing on impacts, sources, types, and solutions all getting to one common goal – prevention.

Organized by Mystic Aquarium’s own Youth Conservation Corps, the workshop culminated with students creating interactive demonstrations. The activities focused on actions we can take at the top of watershed in our communities  to stop debris from heading downstream, including making smart consumer choices. One group focused on plastic microbeads in face wash and the importance of choosing bead-free products - a source of microplastics that often goes unnoticed.

Throughout this summer, students will continue to refine, re-frame, and rework their projects into final marine debris interpretative guides to share at Mystic and Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut. These activities will engage and educate the public on the vital role the world’s oceans have in sustaining our planet.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is excited to partner with Mystic Aquarium on the Teen Marine Debris Initiative, which will help raise awareness about the topic and help shape the minds of young marine scientists to start focusing on future solutions.

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California Students Present at Ocean Plastics Pollution Summit

By: Sherry Lippiatt

An amazing thing happened at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this spring.

In the final piece of a NOAA Marine Debris Program and Monterey Bay Aquarium effort, students gathered to present their innovative year-long projects on reducing the amount of plastic that enters the ocean.

This talented collection of students reached 19,605 people and brought even more results from projects at schools across the region:

Quantifying Action Project Impact

Quantifying Action Project Impact

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