NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

From the field: Hill debris


By Courtney:

No matter how many beaches you walk, there is always something new to find.

Sherry and I re-learn this truth every time we survey shorelines for debris. Right now we’re almost finished with a project of monthly shoreline surveys around the Chesapeake Bay. The heavy rain events in September made for really interesting – if also somewhat depressing – surveys. Today I’ll share a story from our September field trips.

Luckily, our surveys were scheduled on a beautiful day after the rains came through. We were surveying a beach located on the western portion of the Bay, along a relatively quiet river. This site doesn’t typically have a large load of debris. The beach is very small and is bordered by a hillside, in which I saw the following:

A glass bottle and some polystyrene foam were actually imbedded in the hillside. The heavy rain and recent high tides had produced large wrack lines, and we believe these physical factors (in addition to potentially increased erosion due to the rain) led to the incorporation of this debris into the hillside. Yikes!

This is a good example of how specific field conditions can guide the writing of – for instance – a standardized monitoring protocol. Field conditions and realities change constantly. If we had walked a different beach, or if rain had not eroded this hill, we might not know to look for embedded debris in future surveys. The more information available before developing a standard protocol, the better. No matter how thorough we are, the real world likes to throw curve balls. That’s why we field-test protocols before finalizing.

This story also illustrates how the impacts of debris can reach farther than the human eye. If marine debris remains un-moved by human hands, it can become part of the local ecosystem. Sand and soil will cover the debris and a very lengthy breakdown process will begin.

We usually focus on the ability of debris to persist and travel long distances, but it can also become part of the landscape in ways that no one ever intended. This unintended consequence is why proper waste disposal and regular shoreline cleanups are so important.

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.

6 thoughts on “From the field: Hill debris

  1. I also walk and pick up litter at the beach. One out of every 5 objects I pick up is a plastic bottle cap. How can we stop this?

  2. The same way that the sharp aluminum pulltab was stopped in the 1970s. Raise a stink, show the damage, get bottlers to figure out a new system where the cap stays on the bottle.

  3. Your story raises an issue I am only to aware of, and that I think a lot of people miss because they are looking for plastic bottles or whatever on the beach, rather than at the back of the beach. I clean beaches around Falmouth in Cornwall, UK, and I nearly always end up at the back of the beach, because there is always stuff there. I regularly pull plastic bags and wrappers and also polystyrene from the banks, or under the grass, where they have become, or are becoming, incorporated into the soil. Today a friend and I found hundreds of tiny pieces of polystyrene wedged under rocks and tamped down into the sand and soil at the far end of a beach we have cleaned a few times in the past year. In the exact same spot last July I picked up over 900 pieces of polystyrene of various sizes.

    It seems the wind and currents conspire to push all this polystyrene in to the same spot at the back of the beach. And of course it makes sense that winds and tides will do the same thing on any beach.

  4. Walking along the beaches of some of Japan’s southern islands I would often be astounded to find thousands and thousands items of plastic debris lodged into (and partially sticking out of) dune sides, hill sides or even mountains sometimes a mile or more from the beach. How it got there I have no idea, if strong winds blew it into the soft hillside or dunes, or if it had been covered at some earlier storm and now began to come out during land erosion, or what have you. Everywhere I looked there would pieces of plastic or bottles sticking up from the ground or out of hillsides. Digging into a hillside would produce even more hidden plastic.

    In Japanese islands the beaches are covered with mostly mainland Chinese debris, although there are a percentage of local Japanese garbage as well as South Korean debris as well. I blogged about a short walk in Okinawa and took some photos of the easily identifiable debris I found:

    Feel free to use these images in your blogging and print material, all for the greater good of keeping our oceans clean!

  5. Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a top notch article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

  6. It’s hard to find educated people for this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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