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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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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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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Japanese Village Sign Found in Hawaii Returns Home

By: Dianna Parker

A large weathered sign that was once part of a Japanese village is going home today, thanks to collaboration between the State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Japanese officials. Hawaiian Airlines will fly the sign from Honolulu to Sendai Airport, where a delegation from Tanohata village will greet it.

The sign, which was ripped from Tanohata in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, washed up on Kahuku Beach in Oahu, Hawaii last September. After learning that the sign’s broken lettering says “Shimanokoshi village housing,” NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources were able to work with the Japanese consulate in Hawaii to determine its origin.

When they learned the sign had been found, representatives from Tanohata requested that the irreplaceable memento be returned. DLNR approached Hawaiian Airlines for assistance, and they volunteered to ship the sign back on a routine flight at no cost.

“This effort is a great example of collaboration between government agencies and industry, working together toward the spirit of Aloha and goodwill,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program. “We hope to continue strengthening these partnerships to assist the Japanese people as they recover.”

According to Japan Counsel General Toyoei Shigeeda, based in Honolulu, the village will use it as an exhibit “for future generations to learn about and understand the tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011.” He said, “We’re all excited that now, more than three years after the tsunami, this sign can be returned as a reminder and symbol of what was lost.”

NOAA has received more than 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its disasterdebris@noaa.gov email address, but only about 45 have been definitively traced back to the tsunami. Twenty of those items were found in Hawaii.

 


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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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Not Just Hot Air: Celebrate July 4 Without Balloon Releases

By: Leah Henry

Releasing a helium-filled balloon into the air may seem liberating, symbolic, and even celebratory. It is also littering, because after balloons go up, they also come down.

Being that over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water, the chance that the deflated balloon will land in a receptacle instead of our ocean is highly unlikely. In fact, volunteers all over the country often find balloons when doing marine debris cleanups.

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So why does this matter? Those lifeless pieces of rubber, latex, or plastic wind up in the ocean, where marine animals may mistake them for food and eat them – blocking the animal from eating the food it needs to stay alive. Sadly, the strings or ribbons can wrap around their necks, fins, or flippers, cutting into their flesh causing severe damage or preventing them from hunting.

If you use balloons for a celebration, please don’t release them into the air. For outdoor celebrations, here are some alternatives:

  • Plant a ceremonious tree.
  • Use pinwheels from used materials.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Dedicate a park bench.

If you do use balloons, secure them tightly and think twice before you let go!


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This 4th of July, Don’t Feed the Animals…Your Plastic

By: Dianna Parker

For many Americans, the Fourth of July holiday weekend is the prime time to head to nearest river, lake, or beach and picnic outdoors. If you’re like me, you do both activities at the same time. What could be better than drinking lemonade and eating summertime food with a view of the water? Top 10 Marine Debris Items Collected.

While you’re out there having fun this year, we challenge you to do your part and keep any trash from your picnic out of the water. According to data from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, most of the top items cleaned up from shorelines across the country were plastic and food-related.  Cigarette butts (made of plastic!) were number one, but take a look at the rest. Food wrappers, plastic  beverage bottles and caps, straws, and grocery bags round out the top six. Beverage cans also make the list at number 10.

These statistics mean we must do more to better manage our trash, and it can start with you. Here are some tips to keep in mind for your picnic “pack in and pack out”:

1. Find alternatives to single-use plastics. If you have a reusable thermos for drinks or a lunchbox for stashing sandwiches, then use them!

2. If you use any recyclable plastics, make sure they make it into a recycling bin. We can’t recover plastics if they’re sitting in landfills.

3. Before you leave, scan your picnic area for any rogue trash that fell on the ground and pick it up.

4. If a trash can is overflowing, then find another one. Wind, rain, or scavengers could scatter the overflowing trash and increase its chances of reaching the ocean. In other words, don’t do this:

An overflowing trash can on the beach in North Carolina: Credit: Danielle Richardet

An overflowing trash can on the beach in North Carolina: Credit: Danielle Richardet

Taking these easy steps will not only keep the beach clean for others to enjoy, but it may help out wildlife as well. Here’s the thing about plastic: when it goes in the water, it doesn’t degrade. Instead, it breaks apart into tiny pieces. Some species of animals mistake these tiny pieces for food, and eating them can cause serious injury. They will thank you for keeping their habitat clean, and so will we.

Happy Independence Day, and happy picnicking!

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