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Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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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!


NOAA Cleans-up Across the Nation

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program staff

There were more than 4,000 cleanup sites worldwide for the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup last weekend. Where did you help out?

NOAA participated at cleanup sites across the nation. Take a look at how we made a difference.


Two Minutes on Marine Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Food for thought: “Try to find a beach where nobody has been before. Chances are, trash has beaten you there.”

When trash, like an empty plastic bottle, soda can, or disposable sandwich bag is not properly tossed into a trash can, it can end up in our streams, rivers and bays, eventually finding its way to the ocean.

Check out this two-minute video posted last fall explaining the problem and how you can help be part of the solution from our partners at the United Nations Environment Programme along with cartoonist and NOAA Environmental Hero Jim Toomey.

What changes can you make in two minutes to help solve the marine debris problem?

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Seattle Celebrates Harbor Seal Day

By: Nir Barnea

On September 8th, at Alki Beach in Seattle, people will gather for the Seal Sitters-organized event to celebrate the “year of the seal,” and for a sculpture dedication, depicting a seal mom and pup. Seattle Mayor, Mike McGinn, proclaimed the date as “Harbor Seal Day.” NOAA will participate in the event providing educational material on marine debris.

Thinking about the event, I found myself trying to imagine what it is like to be a seal in the Puget Sound in the 21st century. No doubt, it must be very challenging. For thousands of years, seals have lived in a slowly evolving environment, gradually adapting to survive. In the last 150 years however, the environment has changed drastically, and seals find themselves dealing with threats never experienced before.

To start with, boats, big and small, as well as  nearby industrial plants increase noise and interfere with wildlife communication in Puget Sound. Large navigation buoys in the area are nice hang-out spots for seals, but boat traffic all around is a major safety hazard to seals. Man-made chemicals, some toxic to seals and other marine animals, are now part of the environment, coming both from point source pollution and from non-point pollution, such as oil-runoff from highways and driveways that reaches the Puget Sound through storms drains.

And then, there is the impact of marine debris on seals. The story of Sandy, a harbor seal pup, rescued, rehabilitated, and then released by PAWS only to be found dead, entangled in a fishing line, is well-known, but sadly, not unique. Marine debris, and especially derelict fishing gear, injures and kills thousands of marine animals every year. Only a small fraction is reported or found during marine debris cleanup operations. But, there is some good news — marine debris is to a large degree solvable by the ones who created it – humans.

Seal entangles in a fishing net. Photo: Northwests Strait Foundation

Seal entangles in a fishing net. Photo: Northwests Strait Foundation

For more than 10 years, efforts have been on-going in the Puget Sound to remove derelict fishing gear, especially derelict nets, most of which were lost long ago during the height of the salmon fishing operations. The Northwest Strait Initiative, supported by state agencies, NOAA, and many others, has removed nearly 4,500 derelict fishing nets from the Puget Sound, and is working hard to remove all known remaining nets from shallow water (less than 100 feet). The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, Nisqually Indian Tribe, and other tribes have removed derelict nets and crab pots from the Puget Sound, and have programs in place to report lost fishing gear.

In the end, however, it all comes back to us, and boils down to personal responsibility. And there is much each one of us can do.

  • Report derelict fishing gear. By phone: 1-855-542-3935 or online It is now the law in Washington state to report lost fishing nets within 24 hours.
  • Fish responsibly. Fish only in approved areas, being careful not to lose nets and crab pots, and use rot cords in all crab pots. Recycle or properly dispose of fishing line and damaged gear.
  • Be an advocate. Educated yourself, your family, and friends on marine debris impact and prevention, and participate in cleanup efforts.
  • Report marine mammal stranding. If you see a stranded marine mammal, call the NOAA Hotline: 1-800-853-1964.

Horn Island barge removal, Regional Coordinator Kim Albins on the scene

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By: Kim Albins

Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator Kim Albins visits the barge removal at Horn Island on August 21, 2013.

The barge located off Horn Island is just one of hundreds of abandoned derelict vessels in the Gulf of Mexico region. It is a mystery how this particular barge became abandoned some 40 years ago; however, many vessels are ripped from their moorings and grounded in the shallow waters during severe hurricanes, while others are simply abandoned by negligent owners.

Horn Island is a peaceful isle with sugar-white sands and captivating lagoons, located to the south of Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The island is home to diverse wildlife, including alligators, herons, pelicans, ospreys, and other migratory birds. In stark contrast, the rusting metallic barge, which was over half the length of a football field, jutting out from the water, was a safety hazard and adversely altered seagrass habitat. Seagrass beds are essential habitat for species of conservation concern (e.g. sea turtles) including fishes, shrimp, and crabs. Seagrass beds also improve water quality, dampen waves, and stabilize sediment. The wrecked barge replaced seagrass beds with bare sand substrate and prevented re-colonization of seagrass from nearby patches.

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To promote ecological restoration of Horn Island, the National Park Service’s Matthew Johnson, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), spearheaded a large collaborative effort to assess and remove the sunken barge.

On August 21, Gulf Stream Marine Enterprises, Inc. (contracted by the NPS) team, led by the Ladnier brothers, Will and Greg, began extracting large portions of  the barge, successfully removing the majority of the remains within the first few days. Further operations to assess the underwater portions of the site are underway. With the barge removed, we hope that seagrass will grow once again in this area.

MDP is working with state and federal partners to better understand and address the issues of abandoned derelict vessels nationally and in the Gulf of Mexico.  Piece by piece we hope to see derelict vessels removed and natural habitats restored.

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How Will You Help Keep the Sea Free of Debris?

By: Asma Mahdi

The International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is on Saturday, September 21 — less than one month away! Can you think of ways you can help prevent ocean litter from entering our waterways this month and every month?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will join forces with Ocean Conservancy for the annual ICC event, and you can help too. Be sure to sign-up to clean-up and help keep the sea free of debris!

Tell us what actions you will take this month to reduce and prevent trash from entering the marine environment. Tweet us at @NOAADebris. Need some help? Check out this infographic from our partner, Ocean Conservancy:

Image credit: Ocean Conservancy

Image credit: Ocean Conservancy


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