NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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New York State Removing Sandy Marine Debris from 10 Sites

By: Ron Ohrel

The 2012 storm known as Sandy inflicted severe damage to communities over large areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, leaving a swath of destruction and large amounts of debris in the coastal waters and marshes. This summer, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, impacted states have started to clean up more of what remains.

While a great deal of marine debris has already been removed, there is still some in particularly in hard-to-reach or less trafficked areas. The debris behind sand dunes and in wetlands, marshes, and tidal creeks poses hazards to safety, navigation, fishing grounds, and sensitive ecosystems. A great deal of the debris is structural, including docks and decks from houses. There are also derelict vessels, lumber, and household items.

Following the disaster, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program worked with the states to determine where additional marine debris removal was needed. NOAA established a formal agreement with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation that enables debris cleanup at 10 sites, including nine waterfront state parks on Long Island.

Led by Parks’ Regional Environmental Manager Annie McIntyre, the project involves manual removal of construction debris, broken docks, timber, and other miscellaneous items. In many cases, the debris is located hundreds of yards from shore in back dunes, landward edges of marshes, and along tree and shrub lines—demonstrating the magnitude of Sandy’s storm surge. “The winter after Sandy, we were walking along the beaches and we saw lots and lots of debris way back in the bushes,” explained McIntyre. “We knew that we were never going to have the time or manpower to get to them, so when this program became available, I was really excited. It’s a tremendous opportunity to get this debris out of the ecosystem.”

Cleanup at the state parks is now underway. Since June, seasonal employees have been at work, withstanding summer heat, high vegetation, and biting insects while removing tons of debris. The crew consists of current college students or recent graduates. Many were on Long Island when Sandy came ashore.

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The storm’s impact is still being discovered. “What surprised me most is actually how much is still out here, almost a couple years after Sandy,” said team member Maryellen Costantino. “It’s interesting to see how badly some places got hit and how far the water came inland.” Coworker Joe Squeglia agreed: “There’s so much debris out here—little things, big things, refrigerators, boats, little plastic pieces. It’s really shocking how much is out in the environment.”

The crew is doing its part to reduce that amount. They removed more than two tons of debris from Jones Beach State Park alone, with more still to be recovered. Work at all park sites will end this fall.

The NOAA-New York agreement also will allow for debris removal at a tidal wetland located in the Long Island Town of Hempstead and managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Work at that site will begin in fall 2014.

In addition to New York State, NOAA has reached formal agreements with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York City. Those projects will be highlighted in future posts.


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Oregon Sea Grant Releases New Video: Responding to the Risks of Marine Debris

By: Nir Barnea

The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan claimed nearly 19,000 human lives, injured more than 6,000 people, and destroyed and damaged countless buildings. As a result of the tsunami, a portion of the debris that washed into the ocean has reached U.S. and Canadian shores, a process that will continue over the next several years.

Three and a half years after the tragic disaster, much has been done to study the Japan tsunami marine debris transport, deposition, and impact. Oregon Sea Grant, in collaboration with its partners, produced a video to present several aspects of addressing the Japan tsunami marine debris, including: the assessment and removal of invasive species that arrived from Japan on tsunami debris, a collaborative effort with a group from Japan to clean up marine debris from an Oregon beach and identify its sources, a shoreline survey to study deposition of marine debris, and an overall perspective of the Japan tsunami marine debris in the greater context of marine debris in the world ocean.

Click HERE to read the Sea Grant Blog and watch the video.


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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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