NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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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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NYC Marine Science Festival: SUBMERGE!

By: Keith Cialino

On October 5, I represented the NOAA Marine Debris Program at Submerge!: NYC Marine Science Festival, hosted by the Hudson River Park Trust and New York Hall of Science. The event took place on Pier 26 in Manhattan, a beautiful location on the Hudson River with stunning views of the NYC skyline, including the new One World Trade Center skyscraper. More than 4,500 people came to the event to enjoy interactive marine science booths, free kayaking on the Hudson, informative talks, and tasty food. Even the live music was marine-themed and solar powered! One really neat thing about the event was the level of crowd engagement. Almost every table had a fun, educational, hands-on activity for kids and adults alike, and it seemed like visitors spent a lot of time at each booth.

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At the event, I gave a talk about small changes New Yorkers can make to prevent marine debris- things like drinking New York City’s great tap water instead of buying bottled water, checking their toiletries for microbeads, and not releasing balloons  into the environment.

NYC tap water instead of bottled water -http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/this-4th-of-july-dont-feed-the-animals-your-plastic/
Check toiletries for microbeads – http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/illinois-bans-plastic-microbeads-from-personal-care-products/
Don’t release balloons – http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/not-just-hot-air-celebrate-july-4-without-balloon-releases/

I also had a table with the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s interactive wheel of knowledge. It was a lot of fun talking with attendees about marine debris and hearing their answers to the marine debris questions from the wheel. The kids had creative answers to my “Name the 3 R’s” prompt. I heard great responses like respect, renew, and recharge, but we were able to get to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by the time they walked away. One very young visitor to my booth told me, “I can’t even read yet!”, but, with me reading the question, he did know that we should not put our trash in the ocean. 100 people left our booth with the 2015 marine debris calendar, and many more left with new knowledge of marine debris in the NYC area.

More event photos: Flickr Account (Photos Credit: David Handschuh)


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What We Can Learn from North Carolina

By: Jason Rolfe

After spending three days with Lisa Rider last week, I know why she’s a local environmental legend. She does everything she can to eliminate marine debris from her home state of North Carolina and that’s a tall order. But Lisa has the energy, experience, and connections to make it happen.  As a bit of proof, she won this year’s Carolina Recycling Association Recycler of the Year award!  I was with Lisa and 30 of her closest green-thinking friends at her 2nd Annual Marine Debris Symposium. We discussed local cooperation and regional partnership opportunities to exchange information on recent developments, program ideas, and best management practices for marine debris prevention, education, and removal.

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I talked with the group about our NOAA Marine Debris Program and what we do nationally and in the Southeast to address marine debris. But what I found most valuable was learning from the scientists, government workers, waste management engineers, and educators who came from all over North Carolina to talk about their marine debris work. I was blown away by the depth of knowledge and passion that everyone brought to the Symposium.  After sharing updates and ideas during the days, we spent early afternoons out on the local beach and in a nearby bay cleaning up hundreds of cigarette butts, tiny pieces of foam, baby diapers, and even a 12 foot long garden hose complete with sprinkler attachment.  We cataloged all that we removed using the Marine Debris Tracker app – feel free to check out our haul!

The list below describes what’s been going on with marine debris in North Carolina and ways you could get involved. You can click on an activity or topic that interests you to find out more.  Do your part to help us rid our global ocean of marine debris.  C’mon, do something, even if it’s a small thing.  Lisa will be very proud of you!

Baby turtles safely make their way to the ocean thanks to these caring folks at Wrightsville Beach. For years, they’ve been cleaning up and recording what they find and they do their best to educate anyone who has a moment to learn about turtles, their nesting habits and ways that the public can help to keep the beaches open for turtle business.  Contact Ginger Taylor if you want to be part of the team!

sea turtleLocal Cleanups: Missed your chance to join an International Coastal Cleanup group but still want to do your part? Don’t fret; there are many other opportunities over the next few weeks with NC Big Sweep!

Shaping the marine debris field, professor and catalyst in the Southeast, Dr. Jenna Jambeck blogs about her experience. She’s also the brain behind many other marine debris initiatives as well as our very own Marine Debris Tracker app.

Through the Plastic Ocean Project, art and science come together to educate and motivate. And a whole lot more.

You know cigarette butts do not biodegrade, right?  They’re made mostly of plastic, affect marine animals, and as the most littered item found on our beaches, they cost a lot to cleanup.  So don’t throw your butt on the ground; use a personal ashtray!  Learn more from Keep America Beautiful.

Better recycling – cans, lids and signs oh my! Be sure to “twin the bin,” meaning, if you have an outdoor public access trash bin, it would be great if you could have a clearly marked and properly covered recycling bin secured right next to it.garbagebins

It’s better if we work together… to turn killer debris into vital habitat. North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Marine Patrol and local crab fishermen, partner to remove derelict crab pots that continue to trap crabs and other coastal animals long after the crabbing season is over.  Once they’re pulled out of the water, the pots are cleaned and made so that they can’t trap anymore, then they are dipped in mortar and ultimately put back in coastal waters to form a stable base for much needed oyster reef habitat!

Are you ready for the next big storm?  Did you move all the trash cans, lawn chairs and that kiddie pool inside before the wind turns them into marine debris? Learn more tips from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Want to know more about the impacts of derelict fishing gear? Keep your eyes open for a new paper coming out from North Carolina Sea Grant. They fund research and outreach that identifies and addresses the impacts of marine debris to coastal ecosystems and communities.  They’ve been working as a valuable resource for unbiased, scientifically sound information about the North Carolina’s coastal ecosystems since 1970!NCCB

Do you keep your boat at a marina?  Is it a certified North Carolina Clean Marina?  If not, perhaps, encourage your marina operators to fill out a simple application.  Once certified, they will be listed on NC’s State site and will receive a Clean Marina flag that they can fly proudly over their marina to prove they care enough about our coastal environment, and the local waters, to take the steps necessary to address trash and improve boating.   Do your part, too – find out how to be a certified NC Clean Boater and take responsibility for the waters around you!

Do you run a business in North Carolina?  Maybe you’re in charge of a weekend festival or you work at a hotel and you want to encourage hotel management to consider ways to reduce trash and increase recycling.  Follow a few tips from the NC Green Travel folks to save money AND prevent marine debris at the same time!  There is absolutely NO fee and it doesn’t take long to fill out the application.  Once your business or event is certified, you’d be listed on their website and get free advertising.


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Countdown to the International Coastal Cleanup

2014_icc-01

A wave of volunteer-action is about to hit your local beach, river, or lake this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the annual International Coastal Cleanup! Are you ready for the ride?

With thousands of sites worldwide, you can dive in and be part of the solution to prevent marine debris from entering our oceans and Great Lakes. To join a cleanup near you, pick a location by visiting Ocean Conservancy’s site map, and tell us where you will be using the hashtag #FreeofDebris.

See you on Saturday!


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10 Marine Debris Prevention Partnerships Launched

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program staff

For the past year, our education and outreach partners across the country have inspired thousands of people of all ages to be better ocean stewards. They have carried the message that prevention is key to solving the marine debris problem, through projects such as museum exhibits, curriculum development, marine debris challenges and informal curriculumoutreach to teens, teacher workshops, dockside education, hands-on cleanups and science for children.

This year, 10 additional groups across the country received funding through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention through Education and Outreach opportunity to partner with us on new initiatives. The MDP has provided $500,000 to launch partnership projects ranging from education for fishers to social marketing and awareness campaigns. They are:

University of South Florida, through its Clean Community-Clean Coast education and outreach campaign, will develop a program to engage, educate, and inspire 3,000+ youth, 500 educators, and the general public in the Tampa Bay region. The project team will raise awareness on marine debris through information exchange, hands-on activities, and messaging that resonates with middle and high school students and addresses social norms associated with effective litter prevention. Students will work with artists to create a large scale public art sculpture made of marine debris and engage in peer-to-peer outreach using the project’s social media tools.

Protectores de Cuencas, Inc is launching Think Before You Drop It,  a research-based social marketing campaign that will reduce litter in nine beaches in Guánica/Río Loco Watershed, Puerto Rico. During community clean-ups, a team will gather information about marine debris and conduct surveys to collect sociological and demographic data from participants. The results will facilitate creation of a strategic campaign, including workshops, school presentations, outreach events, Public Service Announcements, and contests for reducing marine debris at the beaches.

Alice Ferguson Foundation will deploy marine debris prevention strategies and messaging that targets youth and teenage litterers living in communities and attending schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland; Prince William County, Virginia; and Washington D.C. through community-based outreach to youth organizations and the Trash Free Schools Project. The goal is to reduce the amount of land-based litter that enters the Potomac River and ultimately becomes marine debris in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will use a social marketing approach to reduce a deadly and common source of marine debris: balloons and their attachments (often made of non-biodegradable plastics). Through formative research—interviews, focus groups and surveys—project staff will determine the underlying drivers of mass balloon release behavior.  Project staff will then design and test a social marketing strategy to promote alternative ways of commemorating important events and reduce the amount of balloon debris.

Feiro Marine Life Center and Washington CoastSavers will launch an awareness campaign, Education and Action: A One-Two Punch for Reducing Marine Debris on the Washington Coast, to prevent ocean litter through hands-on education activities with elementary students and coastal communities. More than 1,000 elementary school students from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula will learn about marine debris impacts to coastal ecosystems through classroom activities, field studies at a local beach, and a visit to an aquarium. During the campaign, students and their communities will develop a long-term relationship with their local beach by collecting baseline debris data, monitoring, and participating in beach cleanups.

Hawai’i Wildlife Fund will use education both inside and outside the classroom as a means to engage and inspire the keiki (children) of Hawai’i to reduce their local marine debris footprint.  The hands-on, locally relevant activities will provide the building blocks and tools needed to spark a positive change for these youngsters, starting with their own daily choices at home and at school, leading to community and family involvement.

Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education will use the powerful Washed Ashore art exhibits and educational curriculum to influence behavior change.  Washed Ashore will partner with museums and aquariums to develop and distribute Create Don’t Waste educational materials for presentation and distribution at all Washed Ashore exhibit locations that focus on action-oriented, tangible ways to change individual and community behaviors. Washed Ashore will also provide exemplar marine debris curriculum free-of-charge to teachers at exhibit locations.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will take a three-pronged approach to tackle debris prevention in Santa Barbara County, California. The first component, Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me is aimed at local elementary students through the Museum and the Ty Warner Sea Center and connects student’s daily consumer choices to debris found in the ocean. The second component, The Quasar to Sea Stars Classroom Education, Outreach will teach teens at local high schools and middle schools about marine debris impacts on the environment; and the final prong, Marine Debris Community Outreach will educate the general public, such as local residents, tourists, and specifically beach goers, on debris types found at local beaches and provide prevention tips to promote environmentally-conscious consumer choices.

Salem Sound Coastwatch will launch a community-based campaign, Talking Trash for Clean Oceans,  to mitigate marine debris originating in the coastal city of Salem, Massachusetts. Focusing on the low-income neighborhoods, this program will raise awareness and change behaviors in neighborhoods that are primarily Hispanic by implementing leadership programs for students and providing toolkits to local schools.

Wisconsin Sea Grant and its partners will address the growing derelict fishing gear issue in Lake Superior by hosting workshops for new commercial and tribal fishers, as well as the public, to encourage changes in behavior that prevent this debris from entering the water. They will also create a web portal where the public can report derelict gear and download outreach materials and videos.

We look forward to working with all of our partners over the next year on these new initiatives! Stay tuned to http://www.marinedebris.noaa.gov for updates.


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New economic study shows marine debris costs California residents millions of dollars

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program staff

Southern California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach, according to a new NOAA-funded Marine Debris Program economics study.

Reducing marine debris even by 25 percent at beaches in and near California’s Orange County could save residents roughly $32 million during three months in the summer by not having to travel longer distances to other beaches.

The study, led by Industrial Economics Inc., known as IEc, is the first of its kind to look at how marine debris influences decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost. Given the enormous popularity of beach recreation throughout the United States, the magnitude of recreational economic losses associated with marine debris has the potential to be substantial.

We found that:

  • Orange County residents are concerned about marine debris, and it significantly influences their decisions to go to the beach. No marine debris on the beach and good water quality are the two most important beach characteristics to them.
  • Avoiding littered beaches costs Orange County residents millions of dollars each year.
  • Reducing marine debris on beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents.

For more information and to download the study, please visit our website. 

Which beach characteristics are important to OC residents, by percent. MD-econ_graphic1__large


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Paying It Forward: Students Profit from Educator Workshop

Guest Blogger: Cait Goodwin, Marine Educator at Oregon Sea Grant Hatfield Marine Science Center

Last spring, students in Oregon engaged in school activities that helped them understand the problem of marine debris and gave them the desire to do something about it.  Their teachers took part in a professional development training last February at Hatfield Marine Science Center as part of a partnership project to engage 4th-12th grade students in marine debris efforts through a comprehensive Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Social Studies (STEAMSS)-based marine debris curriculum.  Armed with lessons and resources, the teachers returned to implement activities in their classrooms.

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Several teachers turned the marine debris topic into units that extended over multiple weeks and involved  field trips to the local watershed or coastal beaches.  The students learned about marine debris impacts and came up with ways they could help alleviate the problem. Here are some of their stories:

Fourth grade teacher Amie Lundquist of Oceanlake Elementary School used the topic of marine debris as a focus for a Project-Based Learning unit.  Amie brought in “Beach Boxes,”  plastic boxes filled with sand and various types of natural and anthropogenic debris to introduce the topic.  Just as the teachers had done in their own training, Amie’s students sifted through the box contents and discussed the items within, sharing observations and creating their own initial definitions of marine debris.  The class then took two field trips to local beaches to collect, analyze and chart debris, and make comparisons between visits.   She felt that this step was a crucial part of the marine debris study, and that collecting garbage in natural environments made the concept of marine debris “real” for her students.

Back in the classroom, the class tracked marine debris movements through the ocean using an online ocean current simulator.  They also dissected Albatross boluses using lessons included in the marine debris curriculum.  As they sorted through the plastics the birds had ingested, the students made powerful connections between marine debris and its impact on wildlife.  “My students took complete ownership over the project and worked hard to become experts on marine debris,” explains Amie.  To share their discoveries with others, they created videos, PowerPoint presentations and brochures, and gave speeches to the local community.

Eddyville middle school teacher Sean Bedell’s three-week unit on marine debris focused on two goals:  To collect data to document the problem and to use technology to share what was learned to make a difference.  The class began by reading a marine debris study that focused on small plastics in the ocean and their impact on the food web.  To determine whether evidence of small plastics could be found on nearby beaches, the students built quadrats and sifting boxes and headed into the field.  When they first arrived on the beach, one student commented on how clean the sand looked.  But then as they neared the high tide line, everybody stopped, got down close to the sand, and a chorus of “Whoa, look at all these tiny pieces of plastic!” erupted from the group.  Sean believes that was the moment the students realized the extent of the problem. They also recognized that marine debris is not just “huge masses of rope or ghost ships” as they had previously thought, but includes tiny pieces of plastic that animals are eating.  “On that first field trip, the class collected 1,200 pieces of plastic, and the average size was about 3mm. That was similar to the average size from the study we read,” Sean recalls.  The next step was to empower the students to make a change. Back in the classroom, they made PSAs to educate the public about marine debris and to encourage behaviors that reduce plastics from entering the ocean. The students also used their marine debris data to create a poster for the state park, and the interpretive rangers now use their poster in park outreach programs.

Similar scenarios emerged in other classrooms in Oregon.  Some students used the plastic pieces they collected at the beach to create artistic, ocean-themed mosaics.  Others used an iron to repurpose single-use plastic bags into strong and fashionable “upcycled” containers.  As part of Outdoor School, students used transects and quadrats to quantitatively assess the distribution and abundance of marine debris on a coastal beach.  And in other classrooms, students wrote letters to their legislators to express their concern about the issue of marine debris.

Looking back on the year, teachers reflected on the experience and gave the curriculum development team feedback about the resources they used and the impacts the activities had on their students.  Here is a sample of what the teachers had to say:

“I felt at the end of this unit students understood an environmental problem that they had not heard about before and in some small way made a difference in the world.”

“Students really understood that they were connected to what happens in the ocean 2 hours away!”

“Even at the end of the day during our clean up time, students would find little pieces of plastics or garbage around the classroom and automatically made the connection to how it would impact marine wildlife.”

“As I sat at a baseball game with a student this year, he saw a person leave behind an empty water bottle. “Oh no, that could become marine debris!” he exclaimed and quickly picked it up.”

After the NOAA Marine Debris STEAMSS curriculum has been modified to incorporate teacher feedback, it will be made available to the public.  The project partners are Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Lincoln County School District, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

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