NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Wastewater Treatment Plants and Marine Debris

By: Matthew Coomer, Intern with the NOAA Marine Debris Program

You may not think about wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) very often, but you use them every day. In fact, they are essential to protecting our health and the environment; WWTPs change our sewage into clean water that can safely re-enter rivers and the ocean. These facilities are complex, but to simplify, they filter solid material out of wastewater, allow microorganisms to feed on the organic matter that’s left behind, and then kill any dangerous bacteria. Whenever you use water at home or in your community, you use your local WWTP. Unfortunately, while these treatment plants are very good at their job, they may also be point sources of a persistent type of marine debris— microplastics.

When most WWTPs were designed, most people weren’t thinking about potential environmental impacts from plastic or how popular it would become. In many ways, treatment plants still handle plastic debris really well. When large pieces of plastic (like food wrappers) enter the system, they are separated for proper disposal like other solids. Studies show that modern plants capture over 99% of microplastics, too. Sadly, even that remaining 1% is a big problem. WWTPs work through millions of liters of wastewater every day, so a few plastic particles per liter can add up to billions released over time. Unfortunately, creating new filters and upgrading old systems to capture all these particles can be very complicated. Instead, we can all work to prevent plastics from going to WWTPs in the first place.

Plastic microbeads are added to many personal care items like soaps, toothpastes, and body washes. These beads act as an exfoliant and are designed to wash down the drain. “Out of sight, out of mind” only flows as far as the treatment plant, though. Several studies have found that most microplastics entering WWTPs are from consumer products, so reducing our use at home matters. Thankfully, Congress gave us a hand when it passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which will stop the production of microbead-containing rinse-off cosmetics this July and ban their sale next year. Until then, look to see if that scrubbing product in your bathroom contains plastic microbeads and, if so, use a different one next time. When everyone makes this small change, it could have a huge, positive impact. Your WWTP will appreciate the help in keeping our waters clean, healthy, and debris free.

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Don’t Forget to Get Involved This Earth Day!

Earth Day is tomorrow and there is still plenty of time to figure out how you’d like to get involved and celebrate! There are many things we can all do in our everyday lives to help our planet and Earth Day is a great time to start those habits. Earth Day is also a good time to make the extra effort to get involved in a cleanup. You can get outside to enjoy the nice spring weather and have a good time with friends as you also work to pick up debris and clean our environment. Not sure where to find a cleanup near you? Check out this list of cleanups throughout the country! There have been some recent additions to the list, so take another look if you’ve seen it already.

One event to get involved in is with NOAA Marine Debris Program partner, Stockton University, whom is hosting a Volunteer Processing and Community Day in New Jersey. This event is part of their Ghost Pot Prevention and Removal Project, and will involve volunteers processing about 500 derelict crab pots that have been recovered over the last year! This isn’t just a chance to help clean our Earth, but also to get involved in important data collection as part of one of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s funded projects. This is just one of countless opportunities around the country to get involved in, so find the right one for you or start your own using the Marine Debris Tracker App, and go celebrate our Earth this Earth Day!

A group of people hauling marine debris off a beach.

Get involved and join a cleanup this Earth Day! (Photo Credit: Student Conservation Association)

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Get Involved on Earth Day and Beyond!

By: Amanda Laverty, Knauss Fellow with the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Earth Day is just around the corner and it’s the perfect time to get involved and support efforts working toward a clean environment and healthy planet. We want to remind ourselves to make these efforts throughout the year, so Earth Day is a great time to start. This year, let’s challenge ourselves as consumers to make better daily choices so that we can collectively lessen our impact on the planet! It only takes a few consistent choices to develop new sustainable and earth-friendly habits. Here are a few easy and effective ways you can choose to reduce your daily impact and make a world of difference:

  1. Bring a bag. Remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store or for any other shopping activities to reduce consumption of disposable bags.
  2. Invest in a reusable water bottle. Acquiring a reusable water bottle would not only greatly reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use, but it would also save you money in the long run! If you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water, consider using a water filter.
  3. Bring your own reusable cup. Think about how many disposable cups are used every day in just your local coffee shop. Bringing a mug for your morning coffee can reduce the amount of waste you produce annually. Imagine how much waste we could reduce if we all made this simple daily change!
  4. Refuse single-use items. Take note on how often you rely on single-use items and choose to replace them with more sustainable versions. Refusing plastic straws and disposable cutlery when you go out and bringing your own containers for leftovers are a few ways you can start today.
  5. Avoid products with microbeads. Facial scrubs and beauty products containing plastic microbeads were banned in the United States in 2015, but won’t be fully phased out until 2019. Read the labels when purchasing products and opt for ones that contain natural scrubbing ingredients like salt or sugar.
  6. Shop in bulk. Consider the product-to-packaging ratio when purchasing items and choose larger containers instead of multiple smaller ones. When you have the option, also consider purchasing package-free foods and household goods.
  7. Make sure your waste goes to the right place. Do your best to ensure that the waste you dispose of ends up where it should. Recycle the materials that are recyclable in your area and make sure to reduce the likelihood of your garbage ending up in the environment by keeping a lid on your trash can when it’s outside.
  8. Compost. Composting at home reduces the volume of garbage sent to landfills and reduces the chance of some products becoming marine debris.

These are just a few ways that we can apply our Earth Day intentions to our everyday lives. By doing our part to work toward a sustainable and debris-free planet, we’ll also be providing others with inspiration and a good example to follow. As individuals we have the potential to make a big difference and together we can change the world.

A child's drawing of a clean versus dirty beach.

Get involved this Earth Day! Remember to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle so you don’t end up Regretting your actions. (Credit: 2012 art contest winner Kekoa T., Grade 4, Hawaii)

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Derelict Fishing Gear in the Pacific Northwest

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

To most residents and visitors in the Pacific Northwest, marine debris is what they see on the beautiful beaches of Oregon and Washington: items such as plastic consumer debris, commercial packaging, and even balloons. Luckily, agencies and NGOs including CoastSavers, Grassroots Garbage Gang,  Oregon SOLVE, and the Oregon Marine Debris Team have collaborated together and with the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) for years to prevent and remove this debris, much of it arriving from around the Pacific to the sparsely-populated Pacific Northwest coast. Another form of marine debris, derelict fishing gear, is less visible, but still harmful to the environment, commerce, and navigation. Derelict crab pots, shrimp traps, and lost nets and lines can entangle marine wildlife, harm the sea floor upon which they rest, pose a risk to navigation, and even threaten human safety.

Since its inception, the NOAA MDP has partnered with Pacific Northwest federal and state agencies, tribes, the fishing industry, non-governmental organizations, and academia to research, prevent, and remove derelict fishing gear. For instance, along the outer Washington coast, the MDP is working with The Nature Conservancy, whom has partnered with the Quinault Indian Nation, the Quileute Tribe, and Natural Resource Consultants to remove lost crab pots. If removal of the pot is impossible because it is buried too deep in the sand, the float line is cut and thus the entanglement hazard is eliminated. To focus on derelict nets in the Puget Sound, the MDP worked on  a multi-year removal project with the Northwest Straits Foundation, which removed over 5,000 derelict fishing nets, most of which were lost in the 1960’s and 70’s. Currently, the Northwest Straits Foundation is working with the MDP and fishermen to improve reporting of lost nets and remove them quickly. This project also developed short instructional videos for recreational fishermen, aimed at preventing crab pot loss in the first place.

Preventing derelict gear is the ultimate solution, and so the Fishing for Energy partnership has provided fishermen with reception bins to dispose of derelict fishing gear at no cost. In Oregon, Newport and Garibaldi have had bins for years, and recently a bin was placed in Westport, Washington. If not disposed of properly, derelict fishing nets can travel long distances and end up on remote and hard-to-access beaches. This is why providing a place to dispose of nets properly is so beneficial and if a net is lost, its prompt removal is very important. In Oregon, Oregon Surfrider and other organizations collaborate to respond to this type of removal need quickly.

Marine debris in all its forms is a big and growing global problem, and addressing it effectively requires good communication and collaboration on both a global and regional scale. In the Pacific Northwest, the recently-finalized Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan will contribute to reducing marine debris in Oregon, with a similar plan in the works for Washington. These documents will serve as guides to help Pacific Northwest marine debris stakeholders address marine debris effectively and collaboratively.

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Addressing Marine Debris in the Pacific Northwest: Harnessing the Power of Art

Like the rest of the country, the Pacific Northwest is unfortunately not immune to the impacts of marine debris. Luckily, there are many efforts in this region to address the marine debris issue, one of which focuses on the power of art.

Washed Ashore, an organization based in Oregon, works to prevent marine debris by raising awareness through art. After collecting debris on beaches and then cleaning and sorting it by color, the Washed Ashore group creates large and intricate sculptures made exclusively of marine debris. By building and displaying these sculptures, which mostly feature animals impacted by debris, this project aims to reach a broad audience to raise awareness of our connection to the debris issue and to inspire changes in our habits as consumers. Many of these sculptures now travel around the country as part of traveling exhibits, reaching broad audiences throughout the nation.

In 2014, Washed Ashore partnered with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to expand these efforts to achieve their ultimate goal of influencing behavior change. With support from a Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach grant, they worked to distribute educational materials at exhibit locations and develop a curriculum associated with their marine debris prevention through art model. Educator trainings helped to bring these activities and this message to classroom students.

The Washed Ashore Integrated Arts Marine Debris Curriculum was just recently released and works to educate students about marine debris, plastic use in our society, and how to prevent marine debris both individually and as a community. To view and download this marine debris curriculum, visit Washed Ashore’s website.

Keep your eye out this week for more in the Pacific Northwest!

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Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan Released

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

Over the years, Oregon’s agencies, NGOs, and industry have done remarkable work to prevent and remove marine debris along the Oregon coast, rivers, and nearshore areas. In order to address marine debris in Oregon even more effectively, Oregon marine debris stakeholders got together to create the Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan, and within a year, completed it.

The Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan, a collaborative effort of federal and state agencies, tribes, local governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, and industry, is a compilation of recommended strategies and actions to prevent, research, and remove marine debris in Oregon. Bringing together the Oregon entities working on marine debris, the Plan will increase coordination and collaboration in executing on-going and future actions, and help track progress over time.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to have facilitated this effort, and grateful to all involved. We are happy to announce that the Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan is now available on our website.

Cover of the Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan.

Check out the Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan!


Join a Cleanup this Earth Day

Kids and a chaperone on a beach with reflective gear and bags of debris and a city in the background.

Join a cleanup near you this Earth Day! (Photo Credit: Stepping Out Stepping In)

It’s April and that means that Earth Day is right around the corner! This year, Earth Day is on Saturday, April 22nd, and it’s a great opportunity to join in the fight against marine debris and prevent trash from entering our ocean, waterways, and Great Lakes. There are lots of cleanup events happening on and around Earth Day; make sure you’re prepared by knowing what cleanups are happening in your area! Here are a few to get you started:


Date: April 15-22; Host: Alabama PALS; Location: throughout Alabama


Date: April 22; Host: California State Parks; Location: sites throughout California

 Date: April 22; Host: City of Oakland; Location: sites in Oakland, CA

Date: April 22; Host: I Love a Clean San Diego; Location: sites in San Diego County, CA

Date: April 22; Host: Save Our Shores; Location: sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, CA


Date: April 22; Host: Washington Environmental Council; Location: Washington, CT

Date: April 22; Host: Southwestern Area Health Education Center; Location: Short Beach Park, Stratford, CT

Date: April 22; Host: Keep Madison Clean; Location: Madison, CT

Date: April 22 & 23; Host: Norwalk River Watershed Association and Woodcock Nature Center; Location: sites in Norwalk, Ridgefield, and Wilton, CT


Date: April 22; Host: Town of Fenwick Island; Location: Fenwick Island Town Hall, DE

Date: April 22; Host: The Nature Conservancy; Location: sites in New Castle and Wilmington, DE

District of Columbia:

Date: April 22; Host: Anacostia Watershed Society; Location: sites in Washington, DC

Date: April 22; Host: Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Garden; Location: Washington, DC


Date: April 22; Host: Ocean Hour; Location: Park East and Park West, Pensacola Beach, FL


Date: April 23; Host: Tybee Clean Beach; Location: Tybee Island Marine Science Center, Tybee Island, GA


Date: April 22; Host: Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii; Location: Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Waimanalo, O’ahu, HI

Date: April 22; Host: Surfrider Kauai; Location: Nukoli’i, Kauai, HI

Date: April 22; Host: Friends of Kamalani & Lydgate Park; Location: Lydgate State Park, Lihue, Kauai, HI

Date: April 22; Host: Hawai’i Wildlife Fund; Location: sites on Maui and the Big Island, HI

Date: April 22 & 23; Host: 808 Cleanups; Location: sites in Kahuku and Kapolei, O’ahu, HI

Date: April 23; Host: Sharkastics; Location: Wailuku, Maui, HI


Date: April 22 & 23; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: sites in Chicago and Evanston, IL


Date: April 22; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: Michigan City and Chesterton, IN


Date: April 21; Host: Wells Reserve; Location: Wells, ME

Date: April 22; Host: South Portland Land Trust; Location: Portland, ME

Date: April 22; Host: Maine Audubon; Location: Scarborough, ME

Date: April 22; Host: College of the Atlantic; Location: Bar Harbor, ME

Date: April 22; Host: Friends of Fort Knox; Location: Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, ME


Date: April 22; Host: Anacostia Watershed Society; Location: sites in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, MD

 Date: April 22; Host: Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Location: Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, MD


Date: April 22; Host: Green Roots; Location: Chelsea City Hall, Chelsea, MA


Date: April 22; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: sites in Norton Shores and Muskegon, MI

 New Jersey:

Date: April 22; Host: Clean Ocean Action; Location: sites across New Jersey

Date: April 22; Host: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; Location: sites in Cape May, Maplewood, and Jersey City, NJ (and many more!)

Date: April 22; Host: Secaucus Environmental Department; Location: Mill Creek Marsh, Secaucus, NJ

Date: April 22; Host: WeCrab; Location: Stockton University Marine Field Station, Galloway, NJ

New York:

Date: April 22; Host: Gowanus Canal Conservancy; Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date: April 22; Host: Scenic Hudson; Location: Long Dock Park, Beacon, NY

Date: April 22; Host: Concerned Citizens of Montauk; Location: Kirk Park Beach, Montauk, NY

Date: April 22; Host: Keep Islip Clean; Location: Ross Memorial Park, Bay Shore, NY

Date: April 22; Host: Keep Rockland Beautiful; Location: sites in Rockland County, NY

Date: April 22 & 23; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: sites in Buffalo and Dunkirk, NY

Date: April 22 & 23; Host: NYC Parks; Location: sites in Staten Island and New York, NY

 North Carolina:

Date: April 22; Host: Keep Onslow Beautiful; Location: Deppe Park, Maysville, NC


Date: April 22; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: Timberlake, OH


Date: April 21-23; Host: SOLVE; Location: Portland, Coos Bay, and Seaside, OR (and many more!)


Date: April 22; Host: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Location: sites across Pennsylvania

 Rhode Island:

Date: April 22; Host: Clean Ocean Access; Location: Cliff Walk, Newport, RI

Date: April 22; Host: Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council; Location: Merino Park, Providence, RI

Date: April 21-23; Host: Save the Bay; Location: sites in Warwick, Providence, and Newport, RI (and many more!)


Date: April 22; Host: Texas Adopt-A-Beach; Location: Rockport Beach, South Padre Island, and Galveston Island, TX (and many more!)


Date: April 22; Host: Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority; Location: Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington, VA

Date: April 22; Host: Surfrider Virginia Beach; Location: Lake Holly, Virginia Beach, VA


Date: April 21; Host: Surfrider Seattle; Location: Golden Gardens Park, Seattle, WA

Date: April 22; Host: Duwamish Alive! Coalition; Location: sites on the Duwamish River, WA


Date: April 22; Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach; Location: sites in Racine, Milwaukee, amd Manitowoc, WI

Don’t see a cleanup close to you? Keep an eye on our blog and website for updates closer to Earth Day or start one yourself—gather some friends, grab some gloves and bags, and clean up your area (please remember, safety first)!