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Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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NOAA Marine Debris Program Releases 2016-2020 Strategic Plan

By: Nancy Wallace, Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Marine debris is a pervasive problem that threatens our oceans and coastal environments. Since the inception of the NOAA Marine Debris Program in 2006, we have strived to combat this issue by finding solutions through research, removal and prevention efforts. We have had many accomplishments during this time, including funding important and innovative research projects, removing a significant amount of coastal debris, and reaching thousands of students, teachers, and communities to bring the issue of marine debris to the forefront.

There is still a long way to go to solve this problem and we need to be strategic about our future priorities. We will continue to take action to help protect our important natural resources. I am excited to announce that the NOAA Marine Debris Program has developed a new strategic plan to lead us into the future and help us succeed in continuing to combat marine debris in the coming years.

The NOAA Marine Program is happy to announce the release of its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan.

The NOAA Marine Program is happy to announce the release of its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan.

Check out the 2016-2020 NOAA Marine Debris Program Strategic Plan on our website.

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It’s Almost Time for This Year’s Marine Debris Art Contest!

It’s just about that time of year again: this year’s Marine Debris Art Contest is almost upon us!

Each year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program holds a ‘Keep the Sea Free of Debris’ art contest for U.S. students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The winners are featured on our yearly calendar that helps to raise awareness of the harmful impacts that marine debris has on our oceans year-round. Start getting your creative juices flowing and take a look at last year’s winners:

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Keep your eye out for the announcement of the official start of the art contest soon!


Student Conservation Association Restores and Preserves Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Coast

By: Dana Wu, Guest Blogger and Project Coordinator for the NOAA/Olympic National Park Marine Debris Removal Project

This summer, a NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-Based Removal grant enabled the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to assemble four debris removal crews at Olympic National Park. This Park works with partner agencies such as the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) to protect its unique habitats, such as its coast, which is not exempt from the effects of marine debris, despite its remote character and location.

With support from Olympic National Park, SCA, NOAA, OCNMS, Washington CoastSavers, and with guidance from the Park’s staff, crews were tasked with restoring Olympic National Park’s 73-mile long coastline. Each crew included eight to ten teenagers and two experienced field leaders, all from different parts of the country. All groups spent two weeks backpacking and working on different sections of the coast, from Shi Shi beach down to the Hoh River. The work was challenging, with some crew members just learning wilderness skills. They gathered heavy loads of litter, but were frustrated when they could not realistically remove all of the garbage they saw. However, they used this to evaluate their own behavior, with Maya, from the SCA/NatureBridge Marine Science Exploration Crew, expressing: “I am realizing I should use less plastic in my daily life.”

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In addition to removing debris, crews listened to Olympic National Park Rangers and OCNMS guest speakers, who discussed topics including marine debris and its impacts on the ecosystem, stewardship principles, and the significance of wilderness areas. Making connections to the current project, Heidi Pedersen, OCNMS Data Verifier for Marine Debris Citizen Science Programs, presented items of local concern, such as ropes, oyster spacer tubes, and plastic shotgun shells and wads. These specific items were collected separately for NOAA researchers studying possible accumulation patterns and density levels among beaches. Additionally, the SCA crews collected and bagged plastic bottles, buoys, ropes, and much more. GPS devices were used to catalogue debris that could not be readily removed, to advise future management plans.

Once the collection of debris was complete, Olympic Park visitors, Park Rangers, community volunteers, and agency partners hiked in and helped to carry out large loads of debris. So far, these collective volunteer groups have removed over 5,203 pounds of debris from the Olympic coast! These efforts embody SCA’s mission to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong environmental stewardship by engaging young people in hands-on service projects. Crew member Grant felt inspired and summarized his feelings as having “…an unmistakable sense of pride to look over [his] shoulder at a beach we had cleaned.” Many thanks to all who fight against marine debris by supporting local community involvement and youth engagement opportunities, now and in the future!

An SCA marine debris removal crew with their first load of marine debris, south of Scott's Bluff. (Photo Credit: SCA)

An SCA marine debris removal crew with their first load of marine debris, south of Scott’s Bluff. (Photo Credit: SCA)

To help support similar conservation and volunteer service projects at Olympic National Park, please visit the Washington National Park Fund page. More information about opportunities with the Student Conservation Association can be found at the SCA page.

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Education & Action: A One-Two Punch to Reducing Marine Debris on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

By: Melissa Williams, Guest Blogger and Executive Director of the Feiro Marine Life Center

Education & Action: A One-Two Punch reaches elementary students and teachers over 250 miles of coastline along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. With funding from a NOAA Marine Debris Program Prevention through Education and Outreach grant, the program focuses on educating students about the issue of marine debris and inspiring them to get involved. To do so, it is tailored to address the different experiences of students living along the Strait and along the coast.

For fourth graders living along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, macro marine debris (larger debris) on their beaches is not a highly visible issue. However, the larger population size of cities and towns in this region can create a bigger marine debris issue if students don’t realize its true sources and how important their personal choices can be. For those students, the program brings them from their classroom to the Port Angeles waterfront. There, educators and volunteers from the Feiro Marine Life Center and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary wait to help students participate in field investigations that work to raise awareness of what qualifies as marine debris, help students understand how marine debris impacts ocean wildlife, and inspire them to help the situation by participating in cleanup efforts coordinated by Washington CoastSavers. Students experience first-hand how things like microbeads can impact the tiniest ocean inhabitants and see how plastic pieces can reach sea birds through the movement of ocean currents. Additionally, educators from the Strait coast worked this summer to add educational materials to the program, such as adding writing prompts to field notebooks and identifying grade-appropriate marine debris-themed articles that would address common core language arts standards.

For fourth and fifth grade students living along the Pacific coast, macro debris is a more obvious presence, but it is not always seen as a community priority to remove it or to prevent more debris from accumulating. For these students, the program buses them to a local beach. There, educators engage them in learning about local intertidal inhabitants and in practicing using the NOAA marine debris shoreline survey field guide in an effort to understand how different types of materials can be taken in by these creatures. This past summer, this project was also able to offer a teacher workshop on different ways educators could include marine debris removal and data collection into their curriculum. As a result, teachers in the Quileute Tribal School and Neah Bay Elementary, located immediately next to beaches that are part of the Quileute and Makah Nations, were inspired to add regular beach cleanups during the school year.

Educational tools, like the dissection of albatross boluses (stomach contents) to observe ingested plastic and the first ever published video of plankton consuming microplastics, work to not only educate students, but inspire action. Getting students out to their local beaches for marine debris assessments is also meant to drive them and their families to participate in marine debris removal efforts coordinated by Washington CoastSavers, and to entice them to properly dispose of their trash, pick up garbage when they see it, and to think critically about what packaging they choose to purchase.

The Education & Action: A One-Two Punch project is looking forward to a successful school year, and a lot of environmental stewardship!

For more information about this project, check out the project profile page, or check it out in the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.

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“Washed Ashore” Art and Education

By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Henry the Fish near the Washed Ashore gallery in Bandon, Oregon.

Henry the Fish near the Washed Ashore gallery in Bandon, Oregon.

The first thing you see as you approach the Washed Ashore gallery in Bandon, Oregon, is a creation of plastic pieces and nets: Henry the Fish. Now retired from an illustrious career in many shows, Henry serves as a silent greeter. When you enter the gallery and look up, an ocean gyre is above you. It is made of a bluish fishing net, and plastic pieces of different shapes and colors “float” within it. A whale bone structure made of white plastic containers is in the center. To the side is a jellyfish, with its stinging tentacles made of plastic bottles. Under it is a sea star, with part of its anatomy made of plastic water bottles collected from the beach. There is an oil spill sculpture there, and masks, and other works of art – all made of marine debris. Although they are colorful, nothing is painted: there is plenty of marine debris in all shapes and colors available to give the sculptures any color in the rainbow, highlighting the message that marine debris is a prevalent problem we must address.

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For years, Washed Ashore has used marine debris to create art. Known for large art, it takes a community to create each piece. Marine debris is collected by volunteers and then cleaned, sorted, and turned into “art supplies.” Angela Haseltine Pozzi, Washed Ashore lead artist, designs each sculpture. Once designed, volunteers from school children to retirees help put pieces of debris together while Washed Ashore artists, led by Angela, use these pieces to put the finishing touches on the sculptures.

With support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Washed Ashore will take its art and message to schools. In collaboration with local teachers, Washed Ashore will work with Bandon-area children ranging from elementary to high school. Using a curriculum developed by the “Washed Ashore” program, they’ll teach about marine debris and its many negative impacts, how to prevent marine debris from happening in the first place, and how to turn collected debris into art.

For more information, check out Washed Ashore’s website or take a look at the project page on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.


NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program Removed 32,201 Pounds of Marine Debris from Midway Atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument!

By: James Morioka, Guest Blogger and Field Logistics Specialist with the NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), located around the mostly uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, includes reefs, atolls, and shallow and deep-sea habitats which are home to more than 7,000 marine species, many unique to Hawai`i. Centrally located within the North Pacific Gyre, the PMNM is particularly prone to marine debris accumulation that presents potentially lethal threats to numerous marine and avian species. For example, of the approximately 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses located at Midway Atoll in the far northwest of the PMNM, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system, and roughly one-third of chicks die due to plastic ingestion.

An aerial image of Midway Atoll's barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

An aerial image of Midway Atoll’s barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

To combat this issue, a team of nine specialized divers from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) conducted a 28-day operation to survey and remove marine debris at Midway Atoll, focusing on derelict fishing gear in shallow reef and shoreline environments. Debris accumulation and the concentration of microplastics (<5mm) and mesoplastics (between 5mm and 2.5cm) were also explored. The work was divided between in-water surveys and fishing gear removal from Midway’s barrier reef, and shoreline surveys and the removal of fishing gear and plastics from the beaches of all three of Midway’s islands (Sand Island, Eastern Island, and Spit Island). Overall, the team successfully removed 14,606 kilograms (32,201 pounds—that’s 6 elephants!) of derelict fishing gear and plastics.

Over the past three years, the cleanup effort at Midway Atoll has been focusing on removing derelict fishing gear and plastic items. Using a survey method modified from that used nationally by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, this study emphasizes the abundance of North Pacific fisheries-specific debris that accumulates in the Hawaiian Archipelago. By collecting, categorizing, and counting all of the removed debris, the team hopes to bring forth public awareness to what debris is accumulating, particularly everyday consumer products.

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Everyday products littered the beaches of Midway Atoll, none more prominently than plastic beverage bottles. A total of 3,486 beverage bottles were removed from the shorelines, along with 9,019 separate bottle caps. Hundreds of other household items such as toothbrushes, personal care products, plastic dishware, plastic utensils, and other plastic containers were also removed, along with 959 disposable cigarette lighters. Plastic pollution dominates the collection of marine debris along shorelines every year, and with outreach and education, the team hopes to vocalize the plastic issue and open the eyes of the everyday consumer. Fisheries-specific debris is also a big problem, such as derelict fishing nets, fishing buoys and floats, eel cone traps, and oyster spacer tubes (typically used in aquaculture to separate scallop shells during long line oyster farming and cultivation). This year, 4,366 plastic oyster spacers were removed, as well as 4,178 hard plastic buoys and 1,467 foam buoys.

The human-created problem of marine debris will continue to threaten the fragile, vital, and valuable coral reef ecosystems across the Hawaiian archipelago until a more permanent solution is found. Fortunately we can each do our part every day to help protect our environment and wildlife from the effects of marine debris. Working together– from recycling and reusing materials, to participating in beach cleanups in your area– we can make a difference!

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

This year’s operation was made possible by the NOAA PIFSC CREP, funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the in-kind services of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

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Happy National Estuaries Week!

Happy Friday, and a happy close to National Estuaries Week! National Estuaries Week, which ran from Saturday, September 19th and ends tomorrow, celebrates an extremely important aquatic environment: the estuary!

Grand Bay National Estuary Research Reserve. (Photo Credit: Gretchen L. Grammer)

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Photo Credit: Gretchen L. Grammer)

Estuaries are transitional aquatic habitats between the ocean and the rivers or streams that flow into it, where fresh and salt water mix. Taking nutrients and resources from both land and sea, estuaries provide important habitats for many animals, whether they live there or are just passing through. Since estuaries are an important source for a lot of ocean life and are located along the shore where many communities rely on their resources, they are crucial environments for us as well. Unfortunately, like all waterways, they are not immune to marine debris. In fact, these areas are highly prone to the accumulation of debris, as they are often lined with areas of high human populations. For these reasons, working to protect and restore estuaries is essential, through the removal of debris and working to prevent debris in the future.

Here are just a few examples of the work the NOAA Marine Debris Program supports in estuaries and the waterways that directly feed them:

Removing Debris from New York’s Jamaica Bay: The American Littoral Society piloted a marine debris removal project in New York’s Jamaica Bay estuary.

SC Sea Grant Removes Abandoned Vessels in Charleston Harbor: The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium removes derelict vessels and other marine debris from the Charleston Harbor estuary using community-based initiatives.

Reducing Marine Debris by Targeting Youth and Teenage Litterers: The Alice Ferguson Foundation educates teenage litterers in the Potomac River watershed, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay estuary.


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