NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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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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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine and Repurpose

By: Asma Mahdi

Do more than just reduce, reuse and recycle this Earth Month. Get creative and find news ways to turn your trash into treasure. Here’s a quick tip from us, at the NOAA Marine Debris Program, on how to turn something old into something new: repurpose blog-01

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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!

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Save the Date: International Coastal Cleanup, September 21st

By: Asma Mahdi

Coming this September, you can pick up plastic water bottles, soda cans, food wrappers, cups, plates, forks, spoons, and knives. They’re not for a picnic – these items are on Ocean Conservancy’s list of “Top 10 Items Found” during last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, with cigarette butts leading the pack, and there will be no shortage of them to pick up this year.

Ocean Conservancy

Image credit: Ocean Conservancy

In 2012, nearly 600,000 volunteers in 97 countries joined the ICC, cleaning more than 10-million pounds of marine debris from inland communities, coastal waterways, and beaches in three hours.

We urge you to participate in the largest, single-day volunteer effort at the 2013 ICC, coming up in just a month. Remember to save the date: September 21, 2013 for this year’s ICC event.

To locate a cleanup site near you, log on to Ocean Conservancy’s ICC map online and mark your calendar!

Check back for more information and tips on this year’s cleanup and ways you can help Keep the Sea Free of Debris!

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Debris Removal Opens up Point Molate Beach After 12-year Closure

By: Sherry Lippiatt

San Francisco Baykeeper, a NOAA Community-based Marine Debris Prevention and Removal program grantee, removed roughly 100 tons of marine debris from Point Molate beach in Richmond, CA.

The debris was mostly creosote-treated wood pilings, which had collected at the site over the course of several decades. Creosote is a widely used wood preservative in the United States. Wood treated with this chemical is used commercially in railroad construction, utility poles, docks, seawalls, and pier pilings. There are a number of old piers and other maritime facilities in the area that over time have broken down and become the source of this debris.

Volunteers spent 470 hours removing the pilings and other debris, which will help restore and enhance the coastal habitat and facilitate the September re-opening of the park. It had been closed for nearly 12 years.

Thank you, Baykeeper!


Launching the Marine Debris Clearinghouse

By: Courtney Arthur

We are thrilled to unveil a new tool for the marine debris community!

Today, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is launching the Marine Debris Clearinghouse, an online resource for the rapidly growing marine debris community to discover, explore, and apply knowledge in marine debris research and operations. This resource will benefit the nation’s coastal managers, researchers, policy makers, educators, industry, and communities studying to mitigate marine debris and its impacts.

In its first phase, the Clearinghouse is an extensive database housing current, future, and historical MDP-funded marine debris projects related to removal, research and outreach. The site’s sophisticated search function allows users to query specific project data, such as date and description, location, or marine debris type. Its mapping and reporting functions also allows users to quickly obtain information in multiple formats.

In the coming months, the site will grow to include a library of documents, including best practices, regional action plans, technical documents, and papers that reflect the state of knowledge of a given topic area within marine debris study. In the future, the program plans to expand this database to include information from federal partners and the broader marine debris community.

We are thrilled to unveil this new tool and invite you to visit the Marine Debris Clearinghouse. Please investigate and report back! We’re open to comments and suggestions for improving usability, so feel free to email us at

Best wishes,

Peter Murphy and Courtney Arthur


UPDATE: Dock spotted off WA coast found

By NOAA Marine Debris Program staff

UPDATE: The U.S. Coast Guard located the dock after an extensive aerial search. The dock is grounded in remote section of coast in the Olympic National Park, and officials are working on getting there in order to assess it.


Federal, state, and local officials are working to locate a large dock reportedly floating off the coast of Washington. The dock, similar in appearance to one that washed ashore in Oregon last June, has not been seen since it was initially reported by fishermen last Friday. The structure is suspected to be debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan:

“On Friday evening, fishermen aboard Fishing Vessel Lady Nancy reported a large object floating off the coast of Washington state, approximately 16 nautical miles northwest of the Grays Harbor entrance. NOAA is working to determine the object’s trajectory based on the reported location.

Washington State Emergency Management Division is coordinating the state efforts to address this object. Following its Marine Debris Response Plan, the state identified resources and brought in partners to prepare for the response. The state contacted federal and tribal partners to review the planned response. As needed, the Quinault Indian Nation will work with the state in response efforts, as will NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Olympic National Park, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard has continuously broadcasted a Safety Marine Information Broadcast alerting mariners of this floating debris. Sector Columbia River/Air Station Astoria, Ore., conducted five searches for this floating debris, with an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, searching a combined area of 317 square miles. The Coast Guard will continue to work with NOAA, Washington state agencies and the Quinault Indian Nation to track this floating debris.”

Anyone sighting this object or other significant debris that may be from the tsunami is asked to contact local authorities and report it to

A large structure is spotted off the coast of Washington. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.

A large structure is spotted off the coast of Washington. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.



By: Lynne Barre, Guest blogger

I work on marine mammal conservation with NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and have seen firsthand how marine debris can affect marine life.

As part of the stranding Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, I help respond to beached, distressed and entangled animals. Part of my job also entails responding to deceased marine mammals, sometimes found wrapped in fishing nets. Our team conducts thorough investigations to identify what human activities are impacting various populations. One human impact is marine debris.

We have seen a number of animals entangled in fishing gear and discovered a few who have ingested marine debris.  In some instances, we can quickly release animals from fishing gear entanglement; however, some animals are brought to a rehabilitation facility to recover from their injuries before being released back into the wild.  We investigate every case to identify what marine debris the animals are interacting with and ingesting to help inform prevention and stewardship activities.

Stranding network members investigate the death of gray whale in WA in 2010.
Photo by: Jessie Huggins, Cascadia Research Collective

In 2010 several local stranding groups responded to a 39-foot dead gray whale in West Seattle, WA.  During the necropsy, we discovered a variety of foreign materials in the whale’s stomach.  Duct tape, plastic bags, rope, fishing line, towels, sweatpants, and even a golf ball made up the several pounds of marine debris the whale had ingested.  The local community connected with the story of this whale that was feeding in Puget Sound and then stranded on a local beach with a stomach full of garbage.  This gray whale became the inspiration for an outreach exhibit and activities to educate the public about how marine debris can harm marine mammals.

Marine debris found in the stomach of stranded gray whale.
Photo by: Jessie Huggins, Cascadia Research Collective

NOAA Fisheries and our partners spread the word about what every person can do to keep trash out of our waters, such as bringing your own bag to the grocery store or participating in local beach cleanups. Every little bit counts, and will help keep trash from entering our oceans and protecting our marine wildlife. For more information about the Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, check us out online at:

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Do you know where your trash ends up?

By Caitlyn Zimmerman, Guest blogger

Can you picture a place untouched by man? I picture a place with pristine beaches and bright blue water lapping at the shore.  I believed Midway Atoll, a tiny island that is part of the Paphānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, to be one of those places.

I was fortunate enough to get the chance to go to Midway as part of a conservation biology course offered at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. I was working towards my master’s in coastal environmental management and knew I would never get this opportunity again.

Midway is truly inspiring—a special place that I feel honored to have experienced. But, there are aspects of Midway that chill me to the core. Like me, when most people think of Midway, they think of an island in the middle of the ocean untouched by man, but that is far from true.

Albatross nest on the sand inches away from marine debris (to the right).
Photo Credit: Danielle Crain

Marine debris litters the beach and stacks high on the island’s unused airplane hangar. New debris washes up daily, ranging in form from tennis ball sized fishing floats up to boats. Lighters and bottle caps litter the area around the albatross nests – a clear sign the birds mistakenly brought plastic back to feed their young. For a place so special and distant from civilization, Midway is struggling to keep up with all the debris.

The people working on the island told us stories of birds dying from all the plastic they ate, of chicks never reaching adulthood because parents didn’t realize the bright bits of plastic were not fish, of seals swimming hopelessly tangled in fishing line, of debris piling so high they can’t possibly clean it all up.

While on the island, my class and I helped to clean up some of Midway. We hauled away three truckloads of marine debris within only a mile and a half of beach. We found glass bottles, laundry baskets, more lighters than we could count, fishing nets – one so large it took five of us to pull out from under the sand – shoes, and countless other items that you never would have guessed would end up on a beach in the middle of the Pacific.

My experience at Midway showed me that even the most remote location can be affected by humans.  I think about Midway every day. It changed my life, and it taught me to never take lightly what I throw away because it might end up in some of the last pristine places on earth.

Editor’s note: Caitlyn Zimmerman holds a master’s in coastal environmental management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment with a focus in science communication. She is currently an Outreach Specialist at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center. For more information, contact Caitlyn at

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Cleaning up Marine Debris on the West Coast

By: Nir Barnea, West Coast Regional Coordinator, NOAA Marine Debris Program

Styrofoam pieces found along Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State.
Photo courtesy of: Ellen Anderson

Marine debris—This persistent, global problem has received much attention lately. Over the past couple months, debris from the March 2011 tsunami that struck Japan has started to wash ashore on the West Coast. Items such as a fishing boat, an intact Harley Davidson motorcycle, a soccer ball, and a 66-foot dock have been identified and confirmed as tsunami related debris. These items were traced back to the devastating event, and in the case of the soccer ball, the owner, 16 year-old Misaki Murakami, was reunited with his personal memento given to him by his third grade classmates.

The challenge with all marine debris, including debris from the tsunami, is that it is difficult to trace it back to its origin with certainty. And marine debris, regardless of the source, poses environmental and safety risks and can impact commerce and recreation.

So, how is debris handled? It depends on two factors: Type and location.

Large pieces of marine debris that pose a hazard to navigation are handled by the Coast Guard. One large item, the dock that washed up in Oregon,  is being removed by the State. The U.S.  EPA, Coast Guard, the State or local responders remove hazardous debris found on the beach, such as oil or chemical drums. However, the vast majority of marine debris, small and inert items such as plastic bottles, different types of packaging, buoys and Styrofoam are cleaned up by volunteer groups.

Here’s a case in point—the southwestern Coast of Washington State has been impacted by thousands of pieces of small  debris—the most prevalent being Styrofoam. Volunteer groups like Grass Root Garbage Gang have tackled and removed the influx of tons of marine debris from the beaches along the Long Beach Peninsula. The group mobilized volunteers along miles of shoreline and has packed hundreds of garbage bags with debris. Washington State is also assisting by deploying Washington Conservation Corps teams in a cleanup effort, and in Oregon, the state has set up dozens of disposal stations along the coast.

It’s important to remember that marine debris is an everyday problem, and its impacts are far-reaching. And, it is thanks to these volunteers and the commitment of West Coast state agencies, NGOs, supporting industries, federal, local and Tribal governments that marine debris will be assessed and removed as much as possible.


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