NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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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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How Do We Measure Marine Debris Baselines? Survey Says!

By: Dianna Parker

How do scientists know how much marine debris accumulates on a beach or if efforts to prevent it are working?

Survey Says!…


Shoreline monitoring and assessment! It’s how we get a baseline of what marine debris is out there, as well as measure change and establish trends.

In spirit of the National Ocean Service’s week-long celebration of the surveys we rely on every day, let’s take a look our monitoring lead Sherry Lippiatt’s overview of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s monitoring and assessment project.

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Lucky Tips for Going Green on Saint Patrick’s Day

By: Marine Debris Program staff

We’ve pulled together a few lucky tips for you to Go Green this Saint Patrick’s Day:

  1. Check “going green” resolutions of New Years’ past and take steps to make those a reality, whether that be ‘try composting’ or ‘always bring reusable bags to the market.’
  2. Don’t forget to recycle anything you cannot re-purpose. (Be creative, challenge yourself to reuse it before you toss it in the bin.)
  3. Spring Cleaning: Don’t get swept up in ‘out with the old and in with the new.’
    • Use an old rag or t-shirt to wipe and dust around the house.
    • Donate clothes rather than tossing them in the trash.

Ask questions: Where will what you buy eventually land? If an item will wind up in the trash, is there an alternative?

Happy Green Saint Patrick’s Day from the Marine Debris Program!


Drawing by A. Reyes from Florida (2011)

Drawing by A. Reyes from Florida (2011)

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New Funding Opportunity for Derelict Fishing Gear Prevention Strategies

Fishing for Energy has a new funding opportunity available to support outreach and prevention strategies to reduce the impacts of derelict fishing gear to marine and coastal environments. The deadline for full proposals is Thursday, April 23, 2015.

Fishing for Energy launched in 2008 through a partnership among Covanta, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Schnitzer Steel. Its goals are to provide a cost-free solution to fishermen to dispose of old, derelict or unusable fishing gear and to reduce the amount of derelict fishing gear in and around our coastal waterways. The Fishing for Energy partners recognize that while derelict gear removal and disposal is a critical effort to reduce the threat of entanglement, entrapment and habitat scarring from marine debris, the real conservation gains are to be made in prevention of the threat, which is the focus of this request for proposals. 

Read more about the request for proposals.

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Innovative research aims to prevent derelict fishing trap impacts

By: Dianna Parker

Every day, commercial fishermen around the country deploy hundreds of fishing traps into ocean and coastal waters to land their catches. Far too often, the traps never make it back above the water’s surface, thanks to storms, tangled lines, or disturbance from passing vessels.

Now, researchers are testing innovative gear technologies and modifications to help fishermen hold on to their traps and prevent serious impacts from the derelict gear to the fishery, marine wildlife, their habitats, and the economy.

Studies show that derelict fishing gear is a widespread and persistent problem across fisheries in the United States. Lost traps are costly to fishermen, expensive to remove, and they continue catching valuable crabs and other commercial species – or “ghostfishing” – on the seafloor. Non-target species such as turtles also have the misfortune of wandering in the trap doors, baiting more animals. They eventually die without food or air.

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But what if we could find a good fix, such as modifying traps so they don’t get lost in the first place, or making them easier to recover? What if traps were designed to be ineffective fishers once they become derelict? Four gear innovation projects launched last year through Fishing for Energy with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program are trying to do just that.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation all received funding through Fishing for Energy’s gear innovation grants to test different solutions to this problem. The projects range from testing different ways to rig lines, to determining which pot design has the best crab escape rates.

At SERC, researchers in the Chesapeake Bay area are evaluating existing crab pot bycatch reduction technologies, such as side-scan sonar, and getting feedback on that technology – including which ones should be tested in the field – from Maryland watermen.

In South Carolina, the DNR is comparing different trap float and line rigging configurations by intentionally running over them with boats to see which one holds up. The pots they retrieve over the course of the project will become artificial oyster reefs.

VIMS is employing commercial fishermen to test biodegradable trap escape panels. Lead researcher Kirk Havens wrote in 2012 that VIMS created an escape panel with a “naturally occurring polymer that biodegrades completely in the marine environment.” The polymer is made from bacteria, and it disintegrates if the trap is left in the water.

The researchers are also testing whether terrapin turtles will avoid certain traps based on what color the trap’s doors are painted.

In Washington, the Northwest Straits Foundation is testing five different Dungeness crab pot designs used in the Puget Sound to determine which one has the best escapement rate. Some traps use cotton rot cords that are designed to disintegrate over time and allow the crabs to crawl out, but it doesn’t always work. The group estimates that over 30,000 crabs are killed each year in derelict pots with designs that prevent escape.

Groups all over the country are working to address derelict fishing gear, as the harmful impacts become more and more apparent. These innovative research projects are aimed at preventing those impacts down the line.

Fishing for Energy is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and is a partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc.


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Building Bins: Fishing Line Recycling in Ohio

By: Sarah Lowe

In the Great Lakes, fishing line is an entanglement hazard for wildlife.  This is especially true in areas such as the Maumee River in Ohio.  Each spring, thousands of fishermen brave the cooler temperatures to catch walleye (a popular recreational species of freshwater fish found in northern waters of the U.S.), which are migrating up from Lake Erie to spawn in the river.  Given the amount of line being used during this time, there is a large amount lost or discarded improperly.

In order to tackle this issue, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has provided support to Partners for Clean Streams (PCS), a local non-profit in Toledo, OH, to build and distribute mono-filament fishing line recycling bins. On February 18, I assisted PCS staff and volunteers in building 20 bins!  As part of the BoatUS Foundation Reel In and Recycle Program, these bins are created to allow fishermen an opportunity to recycle fishing line.  Once collected, the line is shipped to the Berkley Conservation Institute and repurposed into more line or other fishing products such as tackle boxes.  Look for a bin the next time you go fishing!

This project, like many in the region, are being highlighted to congressional staff as part of the Great Lakes Day this week in Washington, D.C. Great Lakes Day is an annual event hosted by the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute to educate and convey a unified message to Congress on priorities for the region.


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