NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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 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: 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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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!




Oregon’s Coastal Cleanup Draws Thousands and Highlights a Bond between Nations

By: Joy Irby, Guest blogger

Oregon beaches are ready for summer after shedding close to 24 tons of marine debris in March. Over 4,800 volunteers helped clear the entire Oregon coast of trash at the annual SOLVE Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup. Approximately 48,165 pounds of debris was removed, including 14 tires.

An Oregon tradition for 30 years, the twice-annual coast wide beach cleanups have seen nearly 225,000 Oregon volunteers remove an estimated 2.8 million pounds of trash from the coast since 1984. Dedicated volunteer coordinators lead thousands of participants across 47 cleanup sites statewide, including several Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff and members of the Surfrider Foundation.

The most common items found were cigarette butts, fishing ropes, and plastic bottles. Interesting items found by volunteers included telephone poles, the remains of a sunken crab vessel, large semi-truck tires, and a 200 pound block of Styrofoam.

While debris from Japan was a rare find this year, SOLVE once again worked with over 60 volunteers from Portland Shokookai and the Japan-America Society of Oregon, a partnership that has been indispensable in the years following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“So many Oregonians have a deep bond with our Japanese friends whose lives and livelihoods were so affected by the tragic disasters of March 11, 2011. By coming together for the beach cleanup, we now have a framework of committed volunteers from many Japan-related organizations in our community who support efforts along our Oregon beaches now and in the future,” said Dixie McKeel, Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of Oregon.

Due to shared ocean currents, marine debris impacts coastlines across the North Pacific Ocean, washing up on both the shores of Japan and the West Coast of the United States. “The beach cleanup is a wonderful opportunity to work together and promote mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries,” added McKeel.

Joy Irby, is the program coordinator at SOLVE, a non-profit organization that brings together Oregonians to improve the environment and to build a legacy of stewardship.

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Big Trash in Alabama on Earth Day

By: Kim Albins

Earth Day began with a clean sweep at Dog River in Alabama. Press and local residents gathered Tuesday, April 22 as cleanup crews from Chris Lovvorn Pile Driving Inc. removed four derelict vessels from the shoreline.

A large excavator described as a “Godzilla-sized litter grabber,” by Lee Yokel, project coordinator from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), removed these rotting eyesores from the salt marsh.  Media and neighbors witnessing the removal weren’t sure how long the vessels have been disturbing the habitat, but all were excited to see them go.

Nearby at Chris Lovvorn’s ship yard, the vessels are stacked and ready for upcoming dewatering, a process to remove the remaining water inside the vessels. Now, 14 of the 28 vessels slated for removal are out and the habitat in Dog River can begin to recover. Researchers from DISL will return to the site May 17th to begin restoration work.

This removal project in Dog River Alabama was funded through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s annual Community-Based Marine Debris Removal Federal Funding Opportunity in 2013. For additional information visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.

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Celebrating Earth Day – Coast to Coast

By: Asma Mahdi

Earth Day celebrations are in full-swing today, and this Earth Month volunteers have been diving deep into tons, literally tons, of spring cleaning for our planet.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program staff kicked off Earth Day activities participating in the 26th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and the 25th Annual Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup, in Washington DC, concentrating our efforts throughout watershed. With more than 300 cleanup sites, volunteers dug deep to remove debris and prevent litter from reaching shorelines. The cleanups attracted more than 5,000 volunteers that helped remove more than 100 tons of debris, which included everything from cracked bowling balls to piles of tires.

Cleanups continued throughout the month of April. In Washington state, thousands of volunteers participated in the annual Washington Coast Cleanup, a state-wide tradition featuring  a series of cleanups to remove marine debris. At the Lake Ozette cleanup site, more than 100 CoastSavers volunteers helped remove litter from Washington’s outer coast, which often exhibits rugged terrain. And, in Massachusetts, the Gloucester community, including Maritime Gloucester and the Rozalia Project, organized cleanup efforts at Gloucester Harbor with more than 70 volunteers. Items, such as , foam floats, wooden boards, and a tire, were amongst several hundred pounds of debris removed.

It is great to see communities come together in this effort across our planet to keep Earth and our oceans clean. Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers that have helped clean up local beaches and waterways to leave behind a cleaner more healthy coastline this Earth Month!

Here’s a closer peak at these Earth Day efforts:


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Marine Debris: At the source

By: Asma Mahdi

Have you ever seen a helium balloon released into the sky or dropped a candy wrapper on the sidewalk? These items may have become marine debris.

Human activity is the primary source of marine debris and every decision we make affects the environment in some way. Watch this video produced by our international partners, Marlisco, highlighting our marine debris impacts, something we can all work on to prevent.

Challenge: In celebration of Earth Month, think of three ways you can help the oceans by reducing your marine debris footprint. Tell us what you come up with!


Congratulations, 2014 Art Contest Winners

We are proud to present the winners of our 2014 Keep the Sea Free of Debris! art contest. These 13 works of art, which we chose from hundreds of submissions, will be featured in our 2015 Marine Debris Calendar later this year.

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Each year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program holds the Keep the Sea Free of Debris! art contest to help raise awareness among K-8 students about one of the most significant problems our oceans face today. The resulting calendar, with the winning artwork, will help remind us every day how important it is for us to be responsible stewards of the ocean.

Thank you to all the students and schools that participated in this year’s contest!


Gyre: The Plastic Ocean, now on exhibit

By: Asma Mahdi

Gyre: The Plastic Ocean is now on exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. It features debris from a 2013 scientific expedition to study marine debris in Alaska and debris artifacts from across the globe.  The exhibition will run through Sept. 6, 2014. Take a peek at some of the pieces on display at the museum:

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Help Needed: Have You Seen This Transponder?

By: Nir Barnea and Asma Mahdi

Attention marine debris cleanup crews, beachcombers, beach visitors, and park recreation staff! Your help is needed to find transponders, released by the Tottori University of Environmental Studies (TUES) in Japan, and report such finding with a picture and its location.

As part of an on-going study* to research the movement of marine debris in the North Pacific, researchers at TUES released transponders, shaped like 2-liter orange soda bottles with an antenna, from northern Japan during four phases in June and October 2011, January 2012 and January 2013. This study is particularly relevant to the movement of the debris washed out to sea by the powerful tsunami that struck Japan on, March 11, 2011.

One transponder was found near Arch Cape, Oregon in March 2013, 21 months after it was set adrift. The founders reported it to researchers at TUES, who then asked Dr. Chan to collaborate on the study and contact the anonymous founders to learn more about the circumstances of the findings. Between 24 to 30 months after launch, the transponders’ battery life ends, and they no longer communicate their location. They drift to wherever winds and currents carry them, and the only way to find out where they end up is to physically find them and report their location.

So next time you go to the beach, remember to look for a transponder that looks like an orange soda bottle – but is far from it. However, safety first: Don’t pick up or move any item that could be hazardous or toxic. Call your local authorities.

You can report the transponder finding to Dr. Samuel Chan at the Oregon Sea Grant College program based at Oregon State University (, or to a NOAA Marine Debris Program Regional Coordinator in your region.

For more information on the study, and maps of the transponders tracking, please check The website is primarily in Japanese, but it provides English translations.

*Research on Prevention of Secondary Disaster by Investigation of Drift Routes of Marine Debris Generated from the Tsunami Following the Great East Japan Earthquake

All Aboard The Rozalia Project!

By: Dianna Parker

On a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon in September, Hector the Collector swims to the bottom of Hampton River in Virginia and looks for trash. Visibility is terrible because of the sediment and plankton kicking up, but he knows it’s down there, as it was in every other harbor he’s searched. Giving up, he heads back to the dock, but awestruck kids will still crowd around him later to learn about his trash dives.

Hector the Collector is yellow, weighs about 15 pounds, and has a gripper claw, a camera, and headlights. He’s a remotely operated vehicle, made by VideoRay, that’s a centerpiece of the Rozalia Project’s marine debris education and outreach initiative, in partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program (NOAA MDP).

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“Rozalia Project is thrilled to be working with the NOAA MDP to combine resources to both cleanup and inspire people, of all ages, to be part of the solution to marine debris. We appreciate that NOAA’s Marine Debris Program shares our optimism that every efforts counts and that we all can make a difference!”

The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean has been around for four years under the leadership of Rachael Miller, an enthusiastic educator, scientist, and sailor. Its mission is to find and remove marine debris, from the surface to the sea floor, through action, technology, outreach and research. Pick it up, don’t point at it, is the motto, and the Rozalia staff has gotten amazing results through those cleanups.

The Rozalia – NOAA MDP project, which kicked off in August, combines education with action. Rachael, with a group of dedicated staff, interns, and volunteers in tow, moves from town to town, setting up dockside programs that often attract dozens and often hundreds of people of all ages. In the summers, they work off American Promise, a 60’ vessel once used by Dodge Morgan for a world-record breaking, nonstop solo trip around the world.

Education is a cornerstone of Rozalia’s activities, and the staff goes to great lengths to engage their audience with STEM principles. Kids looking at a live feed from Hector’s camera go slack-jawed when they see the layers of plastic cups, beer cans, and other random trash on the bottom of their local waters. At the same time, they’re learning about data collection, math, and basic marine science. They make fun public service announcements. They weigh in on where the trash comes from, how long it takes to break down, and how they can be part of a solution. Hector even has sonar imaging that lets them “see” debris, even when the water is murky.

Rozalia staffers, who typically work in the Northeast, will go bi-coastal, taking the program to the West Coast this fall. They anticipate reaching about 10,000 people with dockside programs alone this year. Next spring and summer, they will get back on American Promise and resume education programs and science experiments on the East Coast, primarily in the Gulf of Maine.

For those who can’t make it out, Rozalia has a “Virtual Crew” program that allows members to read Mission Reports full of educational, quirky science, commentary, and challenges, help pilot the ROV through web chats, watch videos, and email with American Promise’s crew. Rachael wants 25,000 virtual crew members before the year is out.

Rozalia is a cleanup organization that works to offer science and education through those cleanups. If Hector isn’t collecting, then the staff is out with dip nets skimming the water’s surface. They also organize shoreline cleanups; eight volunteers for the latest effort in Frenchboro, Maine picked up 2,450 pieces in two days. The goal: to clean up 500,000 pieces of debris this year.

The NOAA MDP is excited to partner with Rozalia on this nationwide effort to educate people on marine debris and how their choices impact the marine environment. The intersection between science, education, and action is so important to the MDP and our work, and Rachael and her Rozalia team are already there. We hope to see you there, too!


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