NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Marine Debris Prevention Kicks Off in Puerto Rico

By: Jason Rolfe

On December 6, 80 volunteers gathered to help Protectores de Cuencas clean up five beaches near Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico. This event kicked off a series of cleanups within the NOAA Marine Debris Program-funded “Think Before You Drop It” project,  a research-based social marketing campaign that will reduce litter on beaches in Guánica/Río Loco Watershed, Puerto Rico.

I was fortunate enough to work with community members, stakeholders, and beachgoers to remove debris from the beaches while the “Think Before You Drop It” research team gathered debris information, made site observations, and taught the volunteers, children and adults alike, about ways that they can protect the valuable natural resources right in their backyard from the impacts of marine debris.

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And this is just the beginning. Over the course of this two-year project, the project team will develop techniques to reduce marine debris throughout the Guánica watershed.  Through a series of workshops, children and young adults will develop messages for a behavior change campaign, based on the research from the cleanups. They will present these marine debris reduction messages to their peers and parents at outreach events.

As the MDP and Protectores de Cuencas continue this partnership, we’ll share project updates and photos from the volunteers as they learn about the ocean and how to prevent marine debris.

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When It Rains, It Pours (Debris)

By: Sherry Lippiatt

Californians have seen huge amounts of rain these past two weeks, thanks to a series of storms moving through the region. We desperately need the rain here, but not the marine debris that comes with it. Major rainstorms inevitably lead to runoff, which can mobilize and turn upstream litter into marine debris downstream.

Sights such as this are common after major winter storms in California:

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. Photo credit: Heal the Bay

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. Photo credit: Heal the Bay

So what can we do? For starters, the easiest thing is to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle to cut off debris at the source. If wet or windy weather is in the forecast, try to schedule a neighborhood cleanup before the storm, and consider not leaving your full garbage, recycling, or compost bins on the street until the weather has passed.

The upside is that some local efforts to intercept and filter out solid debris in runoff have been effective. As you might have read in a previous blog, a recent NOAA study showed that reducing marine debris on Southern California beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents. Preventing litter from becoming marine debris is good news for our beaches and our wallets!

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Virginia Announces State Marine Debris Reduction Plan!

By: Jason Rolfe

Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan

Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan


Virginia, like all coastal states in the U.S., has its share of marine debris challenges.  But through the initiative and perseverance of a small and talented team, now Virginia has a marine debris reduction plan in place and they’re the first to do so on the East Coast!

In 2012, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program began scoping out a framework and in less than two years, they developed a Marine Debris Reduction Plan to reduce the amount of marine debris from land-based and water-based sources in Virginia.  The writing team worked with representatives from federal, state, and local agencies, academia, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders to determine feasible and realistic short and long term actions to reduce and prevent marine debris.

Through thoughtful planning and the hard work of those who live and work on our nation’s coasts and oceans, we can make a difference. Please take a moment to read about all the great work that our partners in Virginia are doing to prevent and reduce the impacts of marine debris.

Download a copy of the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan.

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Now Open: FY15 Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant Opportunity

By: Marine Debris Program staff

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to announce our annual “Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach” Federal Funding Opportunity.

The NOAA MDP seeks to fund projects that will lead to the prevention of marine debris in marine and coastal environments through the implementation of dedicated education and outreach activities. Projects awarded through this grant competition are expected to educate the public about marine debris through proposals including, but not limited to:

  1. encouraging changes in behavior to reduce and address marine debris;
  2. developing and implementing activities to reduce and prevent marine debris working with students, teachers, industries, and the public, and,
  3. engaging the public in active, personal participation (e.g. a small-scale shoreline cleanup with students or other hands-on activities, etc.).


Typical project awards will range from $30,000 – $75,000. NOAA will NOT accept proposals with a budget less than $15,000 or more than $100,000 under this solicitation. The anticipated number of awards ranges from five to twelve.

Eligible applicants include: U.S. institutions of higher education, non-profit organizations, commercial (for-profit) organizations, and state, local and tribal governments. Applications from federal agencies or employees of federal agencies will not be considered. International organizations are not eligible.

To download the official Federal Funding Opportunity along with complete eligibility requirements, please visit Grants Online by clicking here:

The deadline for applications to this funding opportunity is 11:59:59 pm EST on January 15, 2015. Applications must be submitted online via

For further guidance and applicant assistance with this Federal Funding Opportunity, visit our MDP Funding: Applicant and Grantee Resources Page:

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Post Storm Sandy – 270 tons of debris removed from New Jersey

By: Ron Ohrel

The 2012 storm known as Sandy inflicted severe damage to communities over large areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, leaving a swath of destruction and large amounts of debris in coastal waters and marshes. While the majority of debris was removed in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Sandy-caused debris still remained—particularly in marshes, wetlands, tidal creeks, and other sparsely populated or difficult to access areas. That remaining debris continued to pose hazards to safety, navigation, fishing grounds, and sensitive ecosystems.

The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 provided NOAA with supplemental funding to support the removal of debris generated by Sandy. This allowed NOAA’s Marine Debris Program (MDP) to partner with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to remove derelict vessels and other large debris items from the state’s waterways.

MDP and DEP established a formal agreement providing $454,000 to DEP in May 2014. Debris removal started in July and by the project’s conclusion in late September, DEP contractors had removed 270 tons of debris from eight different locations (see map and NOAA’s Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA); click the Legend tab on ERMA to view site-specific details). The removed marine debris consisted of docks, construction-related items, and several boats ranging from 14 to 55 feet long. Project work involved manual and mechanized removal of debris from tidal estuary, salt marsh, and forested wetland habitats.

New Jersey marine debris removal project sites and amounts

New Jersey marine debris removal project sites and amounts

In addition to New Jersey, NOAA has agreements with the states of New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey, as well as New York City. Those projects are underway and will be highlighted in future posts.

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How Does Marine Debris Impact Corals?

By: Dianna Parker



It’s Corals Week at NOAA’s National Ocean Service, so we thought we’d take a moment to examine the impact marine debris has on these amazing species. (Did you know corals are animals?)

Corals are more than just a pretty aesthetic – they have real value. An incredible amount of marine life depends on healthy coral reef ecosystems, from algae to apex-predator sharks. We need them, too, for a variety of reasons:

“Healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth, providing valuable and vital ecosystem services. Coral ecosystems are a source of food for millions; protect coastlines from storms and erosion; provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for economically important fish species; provide jobs and income to local economies from fishing, recreation, and tourism; are a source of new medicines, and are hotspots of marine biodiversity. They also are of great cultural importance in many regions around the world, particularly Polynesia.”

Marine debris, especially large and heavy debris, can crush and damage coral. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which has one of the healthiest and least disturbed coral reef ecosystems in the United States, an estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing nets accumulate every year. The nets that drift there can be enormous, and when tangled together, weigh hundreds of pounds. These net conglomerates are sometimes described as giant “purses” – they roll across the large reef structures, snagging on corals, breaking them, and collecting them within the tangle. The added coral heads can make the nets heavier than when they started. Once the nets settle, they smother and scour the substrate underneath, impeding growth.

It’s not just nets that are a problem for coral. Other larger items such as tires, shipping containers, and derelict fishing traps are also the culprits behind coral damage.

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Even our smaller, everyday litter items can make their way there and degrade the habitat. As our friends at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary asked, do fish even like root beer?


A root beer can rests on coral.


If you are a commercial or recreational fisher, you can help corals out by disposing of your unwanted fishing gear through programs such as Fishing for Energy. Everyone can refocus on proper waste disposal, too. If we reuse more, recycle more, and waste less, the amount of our trash making it to precious coral reefs will also decrease. Trash isn’t limited to just bottles and cans – bigger items such as tires and laundry baskets need careful consideration for disposal when we are through with them.

This Corals Week, whether you’re a diver, snorkeler, or admirer from afar, or let’s take a moment to appreciate all the beauty and value these incredible corals have to offer.

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Tips for a Marine Debris-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

By: Marine Debris Program staff

Cartoon turkeyThanksgiving dinners come in all shapes and sizes – from small “Friendsgiving” get-togethers to large rambunctious family affairs. No matter what you’re doing this year, the amount of trash you’re left with at the end will likely be more than usual. According to the EPA, the volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons.

Some of that waste will undoubtedly become marine debris. We in the Marine Debris Program are so thankful for our ocean (and our partners), and we hope you are too, so here are a few tips you can use to reduce waste and marine debris from your Thanksgiving dinner:

  • Take reusable shopping bags to pick up ingredients for your dinner.
  • Consider getting bulk ingredients or those that use minimal packaging.
  • Use reusable dishes – plates, utensils, and cups.
  • If your guest list is bigger than your dish collection and you must use disposables, look for items that can be recycled at your curbside.
  • Have a clearly marked recycling bin for your guests. There’s nothing worse than seeing plastic bottles in the trash!

Happy eating and Happy Thanksgiving!


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