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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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Announcing Marine Debris State of the Science Reports

By: Asma Mahdi

The NOAA Marine Debris Program, in partnership with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, is undertaking an effort to assess the state of marine debris science. We have started off with two reports on marine debris entanglements and ingestion. The reports are results of a rigorous research synthesis and highlight debris impacts to marine wildlife, including whales, seals, turtles, and birds.

These reports will help the Marine Debris Program better understand debris impacts and identify knowledge gaps, so we can forge forward to find solutions through further research and targeted prevention and reduction activities. Visit the www.MarineDebris.noaa.gov to download a copy of the full reports.


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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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First-Ever Great Lakes Marine Debris Action Plan Released

By: Sarah Lowe

Last year, the Great Lakes made headlines after researchers found large concentrations of microplastics in them, in some cases in larger quantities than reported in the ocean. While this was news to some people – marine debris in the Great Lakes?! – plastics and other litter, abandoned vessels, and derelict fishing gear have been a long-standing problem for the world’s largest surface freshwater source.

The Great Lakes community recognized the marine debris issue and has been working for the past three years to tackle it. Today, on their behalf, the NOAA Marine Debris Program unveils the Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan —the first of its kind for the region.

The action plan provides scientists, governments, stakeholders, and decision makers a road map for strategic progress to see that the Great Lakes, its coasts, people, and wildlife are free from the impacts of marine debris. It centers around a mission to combat debris through an increased understanding of the problem, preventative actions, reductions in impacts, education and outreach, and collaborative efforts from diverse groups.

Marine debris is more commonly thought of as an ocean problem, but the Great Lakes region, with its complex system of habitats, wetlands, rivers, and tributaries, is also affected. This plan focuses on debris generated on land, which is often blown, swept, or washed out into the lakes. It comes from littering, dumping in rivers and streams, storm water discharges, poor waste management practices, and industrial losses during production, transportation, and processing.

The plan encompasses work that dedicated partners, including the NOAA Marine Debris Program, will undertake in the next five years (2014-2019).  Due to the complexity of marine debris issues, there is a role for everyone in the implementation of this plan, including the private citizen who picks up litter from our beaches and watersheds; federal, state, county, and local government agencies that are mandated to address the threat of marine debris; private businesses and industry that get involved to serve their communities; and nongovernmental and academic organizations that support a wide range of activities like cleanup, research, education, and outreach.

To view the plan, visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.


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Scientists Found Microplastics in Arctic Sea Ice

By: Dianna Parker

Arctic sea ice regularly makes the news because, well, it’s declining to record lows, but this month scientists discovered another alarming observation. According to a new study, microplastics were found frozen in the ice, and there are a lot of them.

Rachel Obbard, an engineering professor at Dartmouth, and her colleagues wrote in the journal Earth’s Future that, “Arctic sea ice from remote locations contains concentrations of microplastics at least two orders of magnitude greater than those that have been previously reported in highly contaminated surface waters, such as those of the Pacific Gyre.”

That leaves us wondering: if Arctic sea ice acts as a “sink” for microplastics, what will happen when the ice melts and what are the potential ecosystem impacts?


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Thousands of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs lost each year in derelict pots

By: Donna Marie Bilkovic, Guest blogger

Humans have been fishing the world’s estuaries and oceans for thousands of years. While techniques have changed over time, the availability of synthetic materials, such as plastics, has dramatically improved the efficiency, durability, and lifespan of our fishing gear. An unfortunate byproduct of these improvements, along with intensified fishing, has been an increase in the quantity and persistence of derelict fishing gear in our waters.

Derelict fishing gear possesses a long-list of unsavory traits and can last for multiple years. They damage habitat, trap and kill numerous animals including threatened, endangered, and economically important species, and pose safety hazards.

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The Chesapeake Bay supports several important finfish and shellfish fisheries that use a wide array of fishing gear including crab pots, eel pots, oyster hand tongs, gill nets, fyke nets, and purse seines. Of these, blue crab pots are by far the most abundant form of derelict fishing gear found in Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay. There are close to 800,000 commercial crab pots licensed in the Bay and about 20 percent are estimated to be lost every year. Commercial fishers removed about 32,000 lost and abandoned blue crab pots from 3,300 km2 of Virginia’s Bay bottom over four consecutive winters through the Blue Crab Fishery Resource Disaster Relief Plan, a program funded through NOAA in response to the declaration of a commercial blue crab fishery failure in Chesapeake Bay in 2008. In those pots, 40 species of invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals and over 31,000 animals were captured. Because pots were recovered during the cold winter months, when most animals are less active or may not be present, we suspect that the total number of species and animals captured in lost pots to be much higher.

Map of the Chesapeake Bay identifying hot spots with high density clusters of lost pots in several general areas including Tangier Island, lower York River, and Eastern Shore tidal creeks.

Map of the Chesapeake Bay identifying hot spots with high density clusters of lost pots in several general areas including Tangier Island, lower York River, and Eastern Shore tidal creeks.

The target species, blue crab, experiences the highest mortality from lost pots. We estimated 900,000 blue crabs are killed each year in derelict pots in Virginia, which could mean a $300,000 potential annual economic loss to the fishery. Blue crabs are not alone, important fishery species also captured and killed were Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, American eel, white perch, and catfish.

It is not all bad news. While the derelict pots were widely distributed in the Bay, there were notable hotspot areas with high density clusters of pots. These areas can be targeted for derelict gear removal and enforcement of existing regulations that require the removal of all gear during the closed fishing season in winter months. Other solutions include better educating vessel operators on derelict gear impacts and gear avoidance techniques and the application of innovative biodegradable escape mechanisms to disarm lost gear and prevent needless mortality. For more information, see our new article in Marine Pollution Bulletin: Derelict fishing gear in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia: Spatial patterns and implications for marine fauna. You can also visit the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s website.

Donna Marie Bilkovic is a Research Assistant Professor at Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management.


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It’s a trap!

By: Courtney Arthur

Fishing traps, often used to catch crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs, may be abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded in the marine environment. This type of derelict fishing gear is important to consider due to its widespread nature, persistence for long periods of time, and impacts that include “ghost fishing” and damage to sensitive marine habitats. Since these traps sit on the ocean floor, they are often forgotten about as a type of marine debris.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program took a regional approach in funding derelict trap research in locations across the country. We were interested to know how many traps were out there, if they were “ghost fishing,” and how the traps were impacting habitat and fisheries. Three scientists led studies in Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys, and they will share their stories about derelict fishing gear and its impacts here on our blog in the coming weeks.

There’s also a significant amount of trap removal work going on across the country (e.g. North Carolina!), so we’ll also share success stories from partners. To kick us off, here’s some good news we recently heard from Timothy W. Jones, Aquatic Preserve Manager at St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in Florida:

This spring, the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve staff removed approximately 640 pounds of marine debris, including 60 derelict crab traps from the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in a single day.

Once discarded or lost, a blue crab trap can remain in the environment for over a decade, continuing to trap marine life. Blue crabs, stone crabs, diamondback terrapins, and fish are among the marine life unintentionally captured. The staff discovered a deceased diamondback terrapin in one derelict crab trap, an unfortunate reality when dealing with derelict traps. Fortunately, they also found and returned a mangrove snapper and two blue crabs that were still alive. Once collected, the derelict traps are crushed down and brought back to land for disposal.

The Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve, Florida’s largest aquatic preserve, which protects over 900,000 acres of submerged land, is supported by NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program and is home to mullet, sea trout, redfish, shrimp, oysters, scallops, manatee, osprey, dolphins, and sea turtles. Preventing derelict fishing gear from entangling and trapping these valuable species, and keeping their habitat free of degradation and damage is essential to their success.

Stay tuned for more!

 

 

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