NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Celebrating Earth Day – Coast to Coast

By: Asma Mahdi

Earth Day celebrations are in full-swing today, and this Earth Month volunteers have been diving deep into tons, literally tons, of spring cleaning for our planet.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program staff kicked off Earth Day activities participating in the 26th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and the 25th Annual Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup, in Washington DC, concentrating our efforts throughout watershed. With more than 300 cleanup sites, volunteers dug deep to remove debris and prevent litter from reaching shorelines. The cleanups attracted more than 5,000 volunteers that helped remove more than 100 tons of debris, which included everything from cracked bowling balls to piles of tires.

Cleanups continued throughout the month of April. In Washington state, thousands of volunteers participated in the annual Washington Coast Cleanup, a state-wide tradition featuring  a series of cleanups to remove marine debris. At the Lake Ozette cleanup site, more than 100 CoastSavers volunteers helped remove litter from Washington’s outer coast, which often exhibits rugged terrain. And, in Massachusetts, the Gloucester community, including Maritime Gloucester and the Rozalia Project, organized cleanup efforts at Gloucester Harbor with more than 70 volunteers. Items, such as , foam floats, wooden boards, and a tire, were amongst several hundred pounds of debris removed.

It is great to see communities come together in this effort across our planet to keep Earth and our oceans clean. Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers that have helped clean up local beaches and waterways to leave behind a cleaner more healthy coastline this Earth Month!

Here’s a closer peak at these Earth Day efforts:


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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine and Repurpose

By: Asma Mahdi

Do more than just reduce, reuse and recycle this Earth Month. Get creative and find news ways to turn your trash into treasure. Here’s a quick tip from us, at the NOAA Marine Debris Program, on how to turn something old into something new: repurpose blog-01

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The Zero-Waste Earth Day Challenge

By: Asma Mahdi

With Earth Day just around the corner, here is a challenge: Join-in on some spring cleaning and make your cleanup zero-waste this weekend!

Need help to organize a zero-waste cleanup? We have you covered! Here is a quick checklist of items that will help you reduce your impact while you clean up our coasts and Great Lakes. Organize your own cleanup and recruit your friends, family and your local community to join-in, roll-up those sleeves, and get rid of debris!earthday-checklist

Organizations across the country are holding coastal cleanups this month. We’ve highlighted a few across the country on our website. We can also help you find a cleanup  near you or give you tips on how to start your own. Just email us at

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Marine Debris: At the source

By: Asma Mahdi

Have you ever seen a helium balloon released into the sky or dropped a candy wrapper on the sidewalk? These items may have become marine debris.

Human activity is the primary source of marine debris and every decision we make affects the environment in some way. Watch this video produced by our international partners, Marlisco, highlighting our marine debris impacts, something we can all work on to prevent.

Challenge: In celebration of Earth Month, think of three ways you can help the oceans by reducing your marine debris footprint. Tell us what you come up with!

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Marine Debris in New York City’s Backyard

By: Lisa Scheppke, Guest Blogger

When people think about New York City, a rich and diverse wildlife habitat is not usually what comes to mind. However, NYC is home to Jamaica Bay, a unique intact estuarine ecosystem consisting of 25,000 acres of salt marshes, intertidal flats and upland forests. 330 species of birds, 70 species of butterflies and over 100 species of finfish, breed, spend the winter in, or use the area as a vital migratory stopover. Situated in both Brooklyn and Queens, Jamaica Bay has an abundance of shellfish and benthic fauna and is visited by the federally-listed endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the federally-listed threatened loggerhead turtle and the largest population of diamondback terrapins in the Northeast. Fishermen, boaters, birders, bicyclists and nature lovers come from across the five boroughs and beyond to enjoy this incredible natural resource.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the ecology of the bay has faced challenges from several factors, including dumping, over-development, pollution and a lack of awareness of its rich resources. As a result, the bay’s valuable tidal salt marshes are declining at an alarming rate. In addition to the pre-existing marine debris issues in Jamaica Bay, Hurricane Sandy brought up to six feet of flooding throughout the surrounding communities, along with an overwhelming amount of large marine debris, including boats, docks, pilings and construction debris. Pollutants from derelict vessels were released into the water and marshes and essential aquatic habitats were damaged by large marine debris compacting sediments and smothering vegetation.

Public awareness is on the rise, however, and community groups and citizens have banded together to advocate for the protection and restoration of the bay. Educational outreach and an open dialogue with the community have been key components of our large marine debris removal project, Jamaica Bay Clean Sweep. With generous support from the NOAA Restoration Center and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the American Littoral Society spearheaded the removal of 60 items of large marine debris in the Floyd Bennett Field area of Jamaica Bay over the last two years. Thirty-six metric tons were disposed of with the assistance of the Department of Sanitation and the National Park Service.

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Public engagement has been critical to the success of this project, with 840 dedicated volunteers contributing 4,658 hours of their time to remove 270 cubic yards of smaller debris from the shorelines of the bay. Community presentations and the distribution of informational brochures have enlightened the public about safe and legal disposal alternatives for unwanted boats.

The American Littoral Society is currently continuing its public engagement and restoration efforts by removing debris from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with support from NOAA  in partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries.

Lisa Scheppke is the Habitat Restoration Project Coordinator for the American Littoral Society. Cathy Sohn, Director of External Affairs for the American Littoral Society, contributed.


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Join in Spring Cleaning this April

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program staff


April is Earth Month, so what better way to celebrate than helping out our oceans and Great Lakes with spring cleaning? Organizations across the country are holding coastal cleanups this month, so come one, come all, and get involved. For example, our staff in the mid-Atlantic will join The Alice Ferguson Foundation  on April 5 in the 26th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, an effort that has engaged over 128,000 volunteers and removed 6.5 million pounds of trash over the last twenty-five years.

Last year, 14,586 volunteers at 633 sites collected 624,000 lbs. of debris in Washington, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, including:

-          193,800 beverage containers

-          27,400 cigarette butts

-          27,200 plastic bags

-          1,314 tires

We in the NOAA Marine Debris Program encourage you to go to these cleanups and see first-hand the impact marine debris has on our coasts. We’ve highlighted a few across the country on our website. We can also help you find a cleanup  near you or give you tips on how to start your own. Just email us at

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Restoring Cultural Heritage at Indian Island

By: Sherry Lippiatt

It was a devastating and defining event in the history of the indigenous Wiyot people. Under the cover of darkness on February 26, 1860, a massacre, by non-native settlers claimed 200 Wiyot at the Indian Island village of Tuluwat in Humboldt Bay, California. In the 150 years since the massacre, Tuluwat has been subsequently been diked and drained for agricultural use, used as a dry-dock boat facility, subjected to decades of toxic chemical and waste disposal, and disturbed by amateur archaeological investigations. In 2000, the Wiyot purchased back the 1.5 acre site at Tuluwat, and four years later, the city of Eureka gave the tribe another 60 acres of Indian Island.

What does this have to do with marine debris? Since recovering ownership of this sacred site, the tribe has overseen significant cleanup and restoration efforts as part of the Indian Island Cultural and Environmental Restoration Project (IICERP). Last year, through NOAA’s Restoration Center community-based marine debris removal program, the Wiyot received funding to remove the last remnant debris at Tuluwat. With NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) support, large marine railways, dock pilings, and pieces of dilapidated buildings will be removed. The project site sits atop an ancient midden – or shell mound – full of remnants of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites. The surrounding vast area of salt marsh is not only a sacred place with religious and cultural significance to the Wiyot, but it is home to ecologically important fish habitat and eel grass beds. The MDP is pleased to have this opportunity to support the Wiyot and help restore this special place.

The ultimate goal of the IICERP is to restore the annual World Renewal Ceremony on Indian Island. This year, for the first time in more than 150 years, the Wiyot will dance at Tuluwat from March 28-30 to celebrate new beginnings and the healing process of not only the island, but the tribe itself. Soon after the ceremony, contractors will begin removing of some of the last remaining debris, restoring the geographic and ceremonial center of the Wiyot universe.


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Not Your Average Homework: High School Students Help Clean Up Tsunami Debris in Alaska

By Margot O’Connell, Guest Blogger

Students from Pacific High School in Sitka, Alaska have teamed up with the marine debris crew at the Sitka Sound Science Center to work as part of our NOAA tsunami marine debris community cleanup project. During their student orientation camping trip in September, we took them out to a beach on Biorka Island near Sitka, where they surveyed the shoreline using the NOAA marine debris protocol and cleaned up everything that they found.

The people of Japan experienced a great human tragedy, and in a way, many of the students at this alternative high school have found that picking up tsunami debris is a metaphor for their own lives. They have faced challenges such as homelessness, family problems, addiction, and the death of a fellow student this year. Basically, they’re more than familiar with the concept of “picking up the pieces” and are using this experience as basis for understanding the magnitude of Japan’s tragedy.

The students spent the rest of their camping trip discussing what that they found and what the tsunami meant for the people of Japan, as well as how the aftermath of the tsunami debris is affecting the rest of the world (in addition to the usual talk of homework and plans for the coming year).

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The trip was a great success, and the kids from Pacific High decided that they didn’t want to stop there. They are continuing to work with the Sitka Sound Science Center and plan on doing another cleanup next September and comparing their results. With the help of their art teacher Heather Bauscher, they have also designed and built an art installation made out of the debris they collected to adorn the halls of their brand new school building. The installation pays tribute to the victims of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Lisa Busch, the director of SSSC, will help them put together a radio segment about the work that they have done, which will air on Alaska Public Radio. The project has been an amazing experience so far for both the students and the Sitka Sound Science Center crew. We look forward to seeing all the great work that these kids will do over the coming year!

Margot O’Connell is the Sitka Sound Science Center’s marine debris coordinator.

Sitka Sound Science Center Marine Debris Coordinator. – See more at:

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