NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Volunteer to Clear Marine Debris!

By: Asma Mahdi


The ocean makes up more than 70 percent of planet Earth. It provides more than half the world’s oxygen. And, it feeds our ever growing population. Our ocean planet gives so much to help us survive every day, and it’s time for us to return the favor. This week, volunteer to give back to the ocean and help stop one of the largest problems it faces today – marine debris.

It starts with us! National Volunteer Week kicked off yesterday, and throughout the week, thousands of volunteers will participate in acts of service across our nation. As ocean stewards, we have a responsibility to maintain a healthy ocean so it stays resilient to human impacts. So let’s do our part and help keep our ocean and Great Lakes free of debris by organizing a cleanup with your friends, families, and local community.

It’s as easy as this:

  1. Gather a team of people.
  2. Find a local neighborhood, park, stream, river, lake or beach that you’d like to clean.
  3. Grab a bucket and gloves to help collect trash – let’s make this cleanup zero-waste!
  4. Track your trash! Use the Marine Debris Tracker app to catalog what you’ve cleaned up.
  5. Dispose of the garbage in a public dumpster or in your trash can. Don’t forget to recycle the recyclables.


Now that you have tools, don’t stop there. The easy part about cleanups is that you can do this year-round. Start today for cleaner tomorrow and pass the message along: volunteer to keep our ocean debris-free!

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We Asked Volunteers Why They Clean Up

By: Leah Henry

For the last 26 years, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has organized a successful, region-wide, volunteer-driven cleanup of the Potomac River watershed. Since its inception, seven million pounds of trash has been removed, making the Potomac cleaner and more beautiful.

This year was no different. We asked excited and dedicated volunteers what made them come to locations across the D.C. metro area to pitch in and clean up. Let’s hear from a few!

Ellie is a local business owner, unable to attend the gala planned a few weeks from now opted to volunteer instead because she joked “I want a reason to be at that gala, a reason to gloat”  while Will stated “ I was dragged” and gestured to Ellie.

“I want a reason to attend the Potomac Conservancy ‘Take Me to the River’ Gala on April 30th – a reason to gloat,” says Ellie. 

“I was dragged,” confesses Will and gestures to Ellie.

“I love being outside, I grew up on a farm, being with friends, and we spotted the first snake of the season! And, truthfully I can’t stay inside, watching Netflix and eating Doritos anymore – it is spring!” Dontay (third from left)

 “I love being outside and being with friends – I grew up on a farm. We spotted the first snake of the season! And, truthfully, I can’t stay inside watching Netflix and eating Doritos anymore – it is spring!” explains Dontay (third from left)

“My daughter got the boots,” kids Kim “We participate in cleanups every year and have since Lana was small. We love coming to this place, we are avid bikers, and when we were making plans to attend the cherry blossom festivities this year we found this cleanup and thought we’d skip the Cherry Blossom Parade for a much better cause.”

“My daughter got the boots,” jokes Kim. “We participate in cleanups every year and have since Lana was small.We love coming to this place, we are avid bikers, and when we were making plans to attend the cherry blossom festivities, we found this cleanup and thought we’d skip the Cherry Blossom Parade for a much better cause.”

“This time a friend just forwarded me an email but I've been doing cleanups since I was a kid,” says Amanda.

“This time, a friend just forwarded me an email but I’ve been doing cleanups since I was a kid,” says a triumphant Amanda.

"It's for the birds," says Nancy

“It’s for the birds,” says Nancy.

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“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

The Theodore Roosevelt Island site of the Alice Ferguson Foundation cleanup on April 11, 2015 was hosted by Potomac Conservancy and the National Park Service.

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April Showers Bring Marine Debris

By: Dianna Parker

April is typically a rainy month for parts of the United States, so much so that springtime precipitation has its own saying. “April showers bring May flowers,” or so we’ve been told.

Rain also brings another, less desirable feature to our lives: marine debris.

After a heavy rain, stormwater runoff (the water that flows along streets or along the ground as a result of a storm) can move litter from streets and parking lots into storm drains that empty into streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. Even trash that is generated hundreds of miles inland can become marine debris if it is blown or washed into rivers or streams and carried to sea.

Litter rests on top of a storm drain. Credit: Sheila Steele, Flickr.

Litter rests on top of a storm drain. Credit: Sheila Steele, Flickr.

During storms with heavy winds, trash can be blown or washed directly into the ocean if it is littered or disposed of carelessly near the shore.

Some cities have installed grates over storm drains or filtration systems to keep trash out, but individuals can help, too. Here are a few ways you can help make sure flowers are all we see on the ground this year:

1. Don’t litter or dump trash in storm drains! Littering and dumping are huge causes of marine debris. Besides being against the law in most places, remember that your litter can still become marine debris, even if you are in an inland city. It doesn’t matter where you are – rain and wind can take your trash to the ocean.

2. Try not to overload public trash cans. If a trash can is overflowing with garbage, chances are the piece you balanced on the very top will fall or blow off. Just find a different can.

3. Join a stream cleanup. There are tons of cleanups scheduled for this spring, including here in the Mid-Atlantic where it gets pretty rainy.

4. Anticipate! If wet or windy weather is in the forecast, try to schedule a neighborhood cleanup before the storm, and consider not leaving your full garbage, recycling, or compost bins on the street until the weather has passed.

Happy spring!

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27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup – April 11, 2015

By: Leah Henry

On Saturday, April 11, the Alice Ferguson Foundation will host the 27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, the largest regional event of its kind. The cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages citizens and community leaders and generates momentum for change. Over the last 26 years, this event has removed 7 million pounds of trash from the Potomac River watershed with the help of 150,000 volunteers.

Roughly 15,000 volunteers in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia will head out to over 500 sites to cleanup our communities and waterways. We hope you are one of them! Learn more and volunteer at With your help, we can create clean land, safe water, and healthy lives with a trash-free Potomac watershed.

27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup (April 11 2015)

If you are in the region, find a cleanup near you! And if you plan to posting to social media use #PotomacCleanup and reference: @AliceFerguson (Twitter) and @AliceFergusonFoundation (Instagram).

Results from Last Year’s Potomac River Watershed Cleanup:

  • 671 sites
  • 14,766 volunteers
  • 288 tons of trash collected (576,000 pounds) including; 211,000 beverage containers,  18,600 cigarettes, 3,560 plastic bags, and 1,288 tires

Take the time. Take part. Take action.

And if you are unable to make it out, visit the Site Leader Center for more information to start a cleanup site near you, or visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Earth day cleanup on April 25!

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What We Know About “Ghost Fishing”

The NOAA Marine Debris Program, in partnership with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, published a report today that assesses the current state of science on “ghost fishing” and the derelict fishing gear that causes it.

Ghost fishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to trap and kill fish, crustaceans, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. Derelict fishing nets and traps can continue to ghost fish for years once they are lost under the water’s surface.

Ghost fishing can impose a variety of harmful impacts, including: killing target and non-target organisms, including endangered and protected species; causing damage to underwater habitats, such as coral reefs and benthic fauna; economic losses from target species mortalities and replacement costs; and contributing to marine pollution.

Atlantic croaker trapped within a derelict or "ghost" crab pot pulled from the York River. Credit: VIMS

Atlantic croaker trapped within a derelict or “ghost” crab pot pulled from the York River. Credit: VIMS

The report examines existing scientific literature to determine what we know about these impacts, as well as gaps in knowledge and suggestions for prevention and mitigation.

For example, some studies estimate that over 90 percent of species caught in derelict fishing gear are of commercial value, which can contribute to a significant loss of revenue for fishermen.

It notes that while it’s impossible to know exactly how much derelict fishing gear is in the global ocean, studies say the problem is getting worse due to the increased scale of global fishing operations and the introduction of highly durable fishing gear made of long-lasting synthetic materials.

This report is the third in a series of scientific assessments on marine debris topics. The program released overviews of entanglement and marine debris ingestion last year.

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DIY Tank Top-to-Tote for Spring Break

By: Dianna Parker and Asma Mahdi

Clothes and textiles can become marine debris, too, if we don’t dispose of them properly or reuse them in some way. We’re reminded of a story from 2010 where researchers in Seattle found a beached whale in with its stomach full of plastics, other random pieces of trash, and… a pair of sweatpants. That’s right: a pair of pants made it into a whale’s stomach while it was trying to feed.

With spring break happening at schools across the country, there’s an opportunity for crafty Do-It-Yourself students who are hitting the beach to reuse old clothes and keep them out of the ocean. Here’s a quick and fun idea for reusing old tank tops: turn them into beach bags! Just turn it inside out and sew the bottom shut.

Get in the reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose spirit with us this spring break season!

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Extreme Cleanup!

By: Sherry Lippiatt

Once a month, a group of dedicated, energetic, and fit volunteers heads to Panther Beach in Santa Cruz County, CA for a strenuous beach cleanup with Marine Debris Program partner Save Our Shores. To get down to the beach, volunteers navigate to the bottom of a steep cliff via a rugged trail – typically, they arrive to find the remnants of illegal camping activities. It’s an extreme cleanup, to say the least!

Unfortunately, by not heeding the “Pack It In, Pack It Out” mantra, weekend campers and partiers that come to enjoy the beach aren’t leaving it as clean as when they arrived. The numbers are pretty shocking – in 2014 alone, with support from the NOAA MDP and other sponsors, Save Our Shores volunteers hauled a whopping 5,105 pounds of beer bottles, broken camping equipment, and other debris off the beach and back up the cliffs for proper disposal.

Rachel Kippen, Save Our Shores Program Manager reflected on the project: “For me personally, I think our biggest success with the project was the awareness it created and the continued excitement it generated. When we launched the Panther cleanups, it immediately brought attention to a beloved beach off the beaten path that many people did not realize had a trash issue… We know that a project is successful when we can see a domino effect like the one Panther created. Our volunteers engaged with new volunteers and now we have groups organizing their own outreach and cleanup campaigns at Panther. Whole Foods, UCSC Sea Slugs and even alternative spring break groups are all examples of this and we will work with them through 2015 and beyond!”

The University of California, Santa Cruz “Sea Slugs” group plans to continue cleanups with Save Our Shores. According to Kimberly Marks, UCSC Sea Slug member, “We chose to adopt Panther because we saw how trashed the beach was every weekend in the summer and it felt tragic to a lot of us. We know that many of the people who are abusing the beach by partying and leaving a mess behind are our age, they could even be people we know. That is not what we represent, we care for this beautiful environment and so many members of our club love going to the beach at Panther. People see that we are picking up trash and they thank us. Even though we can feel sad about removing so much waste at Panther, we know the beach needs us and that keeps everyone coming back to help.”

There is no doubt that Panther and other Santa Cruz beaches are in better condition today thanks to the stellar leadership and coordination from Save Our Shores and the support and efforts of their volunteers. There are many sources and pathways for marine debris to make it to the beach, but direct littering and illegal dumping are the most egregious. Whether you’re at the beach, on the water, or on the sidewalk, take responsibility for the waste you create and “leave no trace”.

If you live near Santa Cruz, check out Save Our Shores’ cleanup calendar and sign up to help out!


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