NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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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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Phantom Menace: Derelict Traps in Florida Keys and U.S. Virgin Islands

Guest Blogger: Gabrielle Renchen, Biological Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

In an effort to understand regional derelict trap issues, two projects with recently published papers were funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Traps become marine debris as they are lost or abandoned, and are then usually referred to as ‘derelict’. The impacts of derelict fishing traps are three fold. (1) Derelict traps can continue to ensnare and kill fish and other organisms. Fish that die in derelict traps won’t be part of the harvestable catch for fishermen, and won’t reproduce in the future. (2) Derelict traps are lost to the fishermen, who will need to replace every lost trap.  (3) Derelict traps damage the habitat, which can negatively impact where the fish live and eat.

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Florida Keys’ Derelict Lobster Traps

What typically comes to mind when you think of the Florida Keys?  Beautiful blue waters, coral reefs, fish, and other amazing marine life… but there’s something else lurking below: marine debris! In addition to metal cans, glass bottles, and monofilament fishing line, lobster traps are the Florida Keys’ prominent type of marine debris. A team of scientists from NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research (Amy Uhrin), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Tom Matthews) and the Keys Marine Laboratory (Cindy Lewis), conducted surveys to identify and count lobster trap debris and other types of marine debris. These surveys consisted of two divers who were towed behind a boat to study underwater habitats throughout the Florida Keys.

Lobster trap debris included wood slats, rope, and the cement weights used to sink the traps. The scientists counted ghost fishing traps which are lost but still able to catch and kill lobsters and other animals as well as non-fishing traps which were found in various stages of breakdown. They estimated that over 85,000 ghost traps and over 1 million non-fishing traps were in the waters of the Florida Keys. To put these numbers into perspective, about 483,000 lobster traps are actively fished annually.

Trap debris was found in a variety of environments; seagrass, algae, sand, with the highest density of trap debris observed in coral habitats. The accumulation of lobster trap debris in coral habitats, a rarely targeted lobster fishing area, suggests that wind plays a role in moving traps, harming corals, sponges, or sea fans. Other research has indicated that many traps move continuously until finally becoming lodged in the shallow water areas where corals reside.

Trap loss is both an economic issue for fishermen and a source of damage to the environment.  Harvest losses due to lobster mortality in ghost traps and missing gear are substantial sources of lost income for fishermen. Although trap debris removal efforts exist, they are expensive and cannot remove the debris as fast it accumulates. And in the Florida Keys the causes of trap loss include boat propeller cut offs, hurricanes, and theft.

Here’s how you can help: be an alert boater by avoiding trap buoys and organize your own trap debris cleanup through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Trap and Trap Debris Removal Program!

To read the full article: Lobster Trap Debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Distribution, Abundance, Density, and Patterns of Accumulation

US Virgin Islands’ Derelict Fish Traps

Fish traps are a culturally and economically important fishing gear used to catch reef fish in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and throughout the Caribbean. Fish traps are placed in a variety of habitats that can include seagrass, sand, algae, and coral habitat. Given the USVI fishermen’s concerns regarding fish trap loss, our team of researchers from the University of the Virgin Islands, the NOAA Biogeography Branch, and the St. Thomas Fishermen’s Association worked together to investigate the impacts of derelict fish traps. Like in the Florida Keys, theft, vandalism, and buoy-marker severing, where a boat propeller cuts the line and renders the trap derelict, are common causes of trap loss in the USVI in addition to severe storms.

USVI Trap Map

Team placed traps where fishing was known to occur (USVI).

We deployed fish traps built by local fishermen in nearshore and offshore waters where trap fishing was known to occur. Between January and July of 2010, checking traps 2-3 times a week, divers recorded more than 1,100 fish in the derelict fish traps. Topping the list were surgeonfish, snapper, and porgy and hundreds of small juvenile fish and invertebrates. Overall, 34 fish were found with skin abrasions while 2% of the trapped fish died, with the cause of death attributed to ghost fishing. Using our accounts of the species that died and the local fish market prices, we estimated that each derelict trap was capable of causing an annual loss of $52.

Improving spatial planning can reduce the occurrence of severed trap buoy lines, while simple modifications to trap escape panels will significantly reduce mortality from ghost fishing, and the implementation of land-based trap disposal programs could reduce the impact of recoverable derelict traps. This project reveals the impact of derelict traps and their unintentional loss to both the fishing community and coral reef ecosystems. It also speaks to what can be accomplished when we work collaboratively to understand an environmental challenge!
Click  for more information on our derelict fish trap project.

To read the full article:
Impact of derelict fish traps in Caribbean waters: an experimental approach


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Expedition CLEAN with Rozalia Project: We CAN clean the ocean

By: Dianna Parker

On any given day at the Kittery Point Yacht Yard in Maine, you can find a dozen pieces of microplastics matted in with the seaweed by the docks. Many of the pieces are resin pellets, which are used in plastic production, but you can also find plastic foam and other various bits.

Nearby on a research vessel, a crew from the Rozalia Project is working to make sure those microplastics – and the rest of the trash in the ocean – goes away. The motto on board is that, “despite the challenges, it is possible to clean the ocean.”

Here’s one easy way: pick up a plastic bottle from the shoreline before it fragments into thousands of microplastics that are much harder to clean up.

I joined the Rozalia crew this week on Expedition CLEAN, a marine debris cleanup, education, and research initiative in the Gulf of Maine. The Rozalia Project is one of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s partners in preventing marine debris from entering the ocean through education and outreach. Directly from the crew:

In the summertime, Rozalia Project operates from American Promise, a 60-foot sailboat that Dodge Morgan once used to sail nonstop around the world in record-breaking time. They bring marine debris dockside education to children across the country with the assistance of Hector the Collector, an underwater remote operated vehicle.

Expedition CLEAN will take us to remote islands off the coast of Maine, where we will pick up thousands of pieces of trash and derelict fishing gear, preventing plastics from becoming microplastics. When we’re not doing removal, we’ll test technologies and better understanding where debris concentrates.

Next week, we’ll take the marine debris education message to high school students at Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership’s marine biology program.

The Rozalia Project believes that success comes from addressing the entire water column, surface to seafloor, and using multiple methods from restoration (cleanup) to solutions-based research to prevention through education programs.

Part of that education effort is in amplifying the right messages: we can clean the ocean and you can be a part of it. Every little bit makes a difference.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the week!


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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.


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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 USA.gov 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: OurBeach.org 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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