NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Thanks, we think we figured out the mystery debris!

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In the previous post, we provided a few photos of mystery debris items that we have been finding near the mouth of the Patapsco River. A number of folks responded, most of whom thought the items might be wire connectors (here is an example: These connectors are about the same size as the debris we’ve been finding and come in various colors to indicate the type of wires being connected. We were sold on this theory until we received a great email from someone who used to work at the Baltimore City crime lab. Based on the new information, it appears that these items are actually caps to vials typically used in the drug trade.

This information illustrates that “everything runs downhill” – a phrase often used in environmental education and outreach – even the detritus of the black market. Litter makes its way from the streets of Baltimore to the Patapsco River and beyond. This soon-to-be marine debris is introduced to waterways via runoff and redistributed onto the shoreline. Depending on the type of debris (what is its density? will it degrade?) and various environmental factors, debris can end up far from the source, on shorelines, in surface waters, on the seafloor, or suspended in the water column. This indicates the importance of monitoring all of these variables in order to get a clear understanding of the drivers of marine debris abundance and distribution and the impact it is having on the marine ecosystem.

Regarding the vial caps, it is doubtful that our program will be able to reach the community responsible for generating this particular item. However, with a growing sense of environmental stewardship in the general public, we are hopeful that future generations see a decrease in land-based marine debris. Thanks again for all of the emails. It was great to hear from many of our readers!

~ Sherry

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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