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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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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:


Congratulations, 2014 Art Contest Winners

We are proud to present the winners of our 2014 Keep the Sea Free of Debris! art contest. These 13 works of art, which we chose from hundreds of submissions, will be featured in our 2015 Marine Debris Calendar later this year.

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Each year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program holds the Keep the Sea Free of Debris! art contest to help raise awareness among K-8 students about one of the most significant problems our oceans face today. The resulting calendar, with the winning artwork, will help remind us every day how important it is for us to be responsible stewards of the ocean.

Thank you to all the students and schools that participated in this year’s contest!


Gyre: The Plastic Ocean, now on exhibit

By: Asma Mahdi

Gyre: The Plastic Ocean is now on exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. It features debris from a 2013 scientific expedition to study marine debris in Alaska and debris artifacts from across the globe.  The exhibition will run through Sept. 6, 2014. Take a peek at some of the pieces on display at the museum:

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Alaska’s Gyre Exhibit Opens This Weekend

By: Asma Mahdi

Gyre: The Plastic Ocean, an innovative and hands-on exhibit on marine debris, opens this weekend at the Anchorage Museum. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is a proud partner on the Gyre project, which brings perspective to the global marine debris problem through art and science. It examines the complex relationship between humans, the ocean, and a culture of consumption, all the way down to how debris affects the pristine Alaska wilderness.

The exhibit takes a close look at the evolution of plastics from its use to advance technology, such as transportation, to its use in everyday disposable items, such as single-use water bottles. The exhibit tells a global marine debris story through the work of artists from around the world. It includes a National Geographic film, documentary photography, hands-on activities, and findings and trash gathered during a 2013 scientific expedition to study marine debris in Alaska.

The exhibit is on view February 7 through September 6 at the Anchorage Museum. It will be repackaged for travel around the United States, but there is no set schedule at this time. In the meantime, here are glimpses of art pieces from this extraordinary exhibit:

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The Department of State’s Marine Debris Art Challenge

By: Kelly Cohun, Dave Gershman and Kira Vuille-Kowing

Tijuana, Mexico -- Marine debris art submitted by Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental.  "La isla del futuro trágico" ("The island of tragic future.")

Tijuana, Mexico — Marine debris art submitted by Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental. “La isla del futuro trágico” (“The island of tragic future.”)

One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure – or an art project, in this case. This fall, the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) teamed up with U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world for the Marine Debris Art Challenge, elevating international awareness of marine debris for the annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) on September 21. Embassies and Consulates hosted cleanups and worked with local communities to clean up the coast and, at the same time, turn salvaged material into art projects.

In addition to the traditional target of the International Coastal Cleanup – beaches – many Embassies and Consulates organized cleanups of waterways, river and stream banks, harborside areas, and even on the shores of ponds or lakes. Local schools, environmental organizations, outdoor recreation associations, and other community and civic groups worked side by side with U.S. diplomats to make their local marine or aquatic environment a cleaner place – and turned what would have been trash into art!

Marine debris comes from many sources and places, including industrial practices, human behavior, and inadequate infrastructure, and it doesn’t recognize borders. International cooperation through initiatives like the Honolulu Strategy can help eliminate marine debris and reduce the ecological, human health and economic impacts associated with it.

From Thailand to Tijuana to Benin, artists demonstrated their creativity and innovation, making the most out of the debris. The Department of State received some truly excellent marine debris art submissions and stories about cleanup events from across the globe. Check out some of the photos featuring the art projects and the cleanups in the links below:

Are you interested in making marine debris art? You can still submit a project through December 31, 2013. For submission and more details, visit the Marine Debris Art Challenge Flickr Page:

Follow the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on Facebook for updates about the Marine Debris Art Challenge and other initiatives:

Kelly Cohun, Dave Gershman, and Kira Vuille-Kowing work for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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Hawaii’s Elementary Students Talk Trash

By: Andrea Kealoha

In island communities such as Hawai‘i, the health of our families is bound to the health of our ocean. We depend on the ocean for food, economic health, cultural nourishment, and enjoyment. With the intention to encourage changes in behavior, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) works closely with a number of schools and organizations that incorporate marine debris concepts into their educational activities.

Hawai‘i’s marine debris team juggled a whirlwind of educational events over the fall semester, with a host of interactive presentations alongside multiple partners.  Fourth grade students from Pearl City Highlands and Pohakea Elementary on Oahu visited the Hōkūle‘a, a Polynesian voyaging canoe that recently launched a four-month-long campaign to conduct education and outreach around the Hawaiian Islands. Students learned about the impacts of marine debris on wildlife by dissecting albatross chick boluses collected in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Boluses are masses of indigestible material that albatross regurgitate prior to leaving the nest. They are typically composed of natural organic materials, such as squid beaks, but may also contain marine debris that the bird mistook for food. Students identified an assortment of debris in the boluses including plastics, fishing line, and even a large piece of rope, showing that marine debris can impact and harm wildlife in even the most remote areas.

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The MDP and Coral Reef Ecosystem Division also visited Wai‘alae Elementary School’s 2nd grade class to show students how NOAA combats marine debris in the NWHI. Activities this year included an entanglement relay to demonstrate how an entangled animal might feel and a degradation timeline that shows how long it takes for items to break down in the ocean.

In line with MDP’s interdisciplinary approach to learning, Maui’s Pomaika‘i Elementary incorporates marine debris education using science and technology interpreted through engineering, expressed through art, and based in mathematics – an integrated educational framework known as STEAM. Every year, the entire school visits Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. In addition to conducting a cleanup, the students used microscopes to observe plankton and measured pH to understand water chemistry. Marine debris collected during the cleanup is used for an annual “Art of Trash” exhibit in which artwork is constructed entirely by re-used and recyclable materials.

By incorporating marine debris into educational curriculum and working with schools and local organizations to create awareness, we can hopefully change behaviors and attitudes toward littering and create a future generation of career scientists that will assist in the sustainability of our most precious resource – the ocean!

Gyre: Creating Art From a Plastic Ocean

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In June, our program’s Alaska Regional Coordinator, Peter Murphy, went on the GYRE expedition, an innovative project planned by the Alaska SeaLife Center that brought together scientists, removal experts, educators and artists aboard the R/V Norseman to observe, discuss, and explore the issue of marine debris in Alaska and work on ways to raise awareness nationwide. Peter lent scientific expertise to the conversation and, using the unique opportunity to access remote beaches, collected marine debris survey data during stops.

A National Geographic crew came along to document the expedition. Take a look at producer JJ Kelley’s stunning final product.


All aboard on the GYRE Expedition, Ctd

Editor’s note: The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Alaska Coordinator, Peter, participated in the GYRE Expedition last week. This expedition aboard the R/V Norseman brought together artists, scientists, and educators to raise awareness about the marine debris problem on Alaska’s remote shorelines. These entries are dispatches from his time aboard the vessel. You can read his send off blog here. Stay tuned for lessons learned and some additional photos!

By: Peter Murphy

Gore Point East Beach – 06/08/13

Friday we left Seward, Alaska, for our first stop at Gore Point, a “catcher” beach that extends into the Alaska coastal current and sees some of the highest debris densities recorded in Alaska.  Gulf of Alaska Keeper (GoAK) cleaned the beach in 2007-2008 and removed over 20 tons of debris from less than a mile of shoreline.   On Saturday, Chris Pallister, the head of GoAK, arranged to be at the beach with some of his crew to show us the site and how it’s changed over the six years that he’s been cleaning it.  From his initial survey, he thought that the debris was significantly less than in 2012. What we saw in logs pushed far up the beach and broken tree branches were evidence of just how strong the weather and ocean forces are that bring debris ashore here. As we spent the day on-site, a small team of us set up our monitoring system, while others collected impressions and debris.

Over the course of the day, we worked together to conduct a full monitoring survey, following the NOAA shoreline protocol to select transects and catalog debris.  This sort of snapshot monitoring data is very helpful in putting numbers to the impressions that people have of a place and the debris they see there– “a lot of foam” can become “___% of debris was foam.”  When you collect data at the same site over time, it can also answer the important question of change, since differences in the composition (what) and the quantity (how much) of debris at a site can give us valuable clues to regional or local changes in the debris picture.  We’re looking forward to doing the analysis, though it’s at least certain to indicate a lot of foam present.

Throughout the day, the diverse background, trainings and perspectives of the team made for lively and thought provoking discussions on the problem and potential solutions to the debris problem.  These conversations continued at night as the team came back to the boat for dinner and presentations, where team members share information on their work and the issue.  The sun was just settling under the mountains as the last of us headed to bed around 11 p.m.  Looking forward to what the rest of the trip brings!

Shuyak Island – 06/09/13

Sunday morning broke while we were en-route to Shuyak Island.  The Norseman’s crew woke up at 1 a.m. to move us in position for another day of beach surveys, debris collection, and shared experience.  On our way, we saw an amazing display of the rich environment we’re working in, as there was an amazing concentration of fin whales, Dall’s porpoises, and seabirds.  Once the Norseman put down anchor, we headed ashore, dividing into mixed boat teams.  The first beach I visited, at Red Buoy Bay (so named because of the large red buoy on the shore), was actually relatively pristine.  In our walks, it took more than 30 minutes of searching to find more than 15 or 20 pieces of debris.  However, as we worked out towards the edge of the beach, we started to see more of the typical debris that we’d seen at Gore Point – small bits of foam, plastic bottles, broken up plastics, and tangled line and net.

As the day wore on, we shifted out to a more exposed beach on an outlying island offshore of Shuyak, finding higher energy beaches with tossed and piled logs.  We set up a short pair of transects on one small pocket beach facing out into Stevenson Entrance.  This beach, which was much smaller than Gore Point, included the same types of debris, but in smaller proportions.  It also included a glass bottle in almost pristine condition.

The differences we’re seeing in debris deposition and types from beach to beach are a reminder of how many variables affect the eventual fate of a debris object, from open ocean wind and current forces to the type of beach by shape and composition.


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