NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Smart Handling of Marine Debris



By: Nir Barnea, Washington and Oregon Marine Debris Regional Coordinator

Marine debris, the perennial, insidious, problem that affects oceans and coasts worldwide, has been impacting US beaches for many years. After the massive tsunami struck the north eastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, inflicting tragic loss of human life and massive damage, a variety of items washed out to sea as the water receded. Some debris remained floating, drifting long distances by ocean currents and winds. This influx of marine debris, adding to an already existing problem, has attracted media attention as well as volunteers, who selflessly dedicate their time and energy to clean the beaches they love, picking up and recycling or disposing of plastic bottles and Styrofoam, fishing lines and floats, packaging of all sort, and other type of debris. Their work is both welcome and appreciated. It is thanks to the thousands of volunteers that marine debris along the US coastline is removed.

But, how can you tell what debris is safe to clean up? Among the thousands of debris items that wash ashore everyday, some can be hazardous.

An obvious example is large oil drums. They can contain flammable or toxic material, should be left alone, not handled or removed, and reported to proper authorities right away.  However, less obvious items, such as plastic boxes or bags with unusual symbols should be handled similarly. Medical waste, for instance, can come in small boxes or packages– a fine looking glass jar may contain toxic material– and explosive devices may come in different shape and packaging. Often (but not always) hazardous materials are labeled.

biohazard symbol on box WA ECY (1)

Watch out for these specific hazard symbols and labels: 


  • Look for the hazard symbols and labels, and don’t touch any item that displays these or similar labels.
  • Don’t pick up or handle any item that you are not sure about.
  • Don’t open bottles, jars, and boxes that could contain hazardous material.
  • Mark the location, warn others, take photos, and call proper authorities, providing exact location description and photos.

The bottom line– Do your part and clean up the beach from marine debris, but be smart and aware of hazardous debris. No debris is worth getting hurt over.

For more information about handling debris, check out our website:

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.

4 thoughts on “Smart Handling of Marine Debris

  1. Pingback: Smart Handling of Marine Debris « Environmental News Bits

  2. The obvious example is NOT oil drums … it is Japan Tsunami debris that has floated in cesium 137, Strontium-90, and plutonium run off from Fukushima Daiichi’s out of control meltdowns. The waste has just been pouring into the N. Pacific in front of the world with NO interference since 2011! ALL Japanese debris is an extreme hazard, Any single particle inhaled or ingested or otherwise ‘gotten inside’ you begins the deadly cancer explosion and they ALL KNOW!

    Please warn the very ignorant public. ,

  3. Reblogged this on flying cuttlefish picayune and commented:
    RE: Japan Tsunami Debris

  4. You really make it seem really easy along with your presentation however
    I in finding this topic to be really something which I think I’d never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me. I’m having a look forward for your next publish, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s