NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Cleaning up the A-8 in San Diego Bay: A Look Back

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.


Over the years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, there have been many efforts around the country to rid our waters and shores of marine debris. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at one of those efforts in our California region.


Back in 2008, the Port of San Diego, with funding through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant program, initiated a three-phase project to remove marine debris from a former anchorage site and surrounding shorelines. By 2013, over 447 metric tons of debris had been removed!

From the 1980s until October 2008, the A-8 was a free anchorage site in San Diego Harbor that could accommodate up to 150 vessels. Over time, the combined forces of inclement weather, improper maintenance, and general human neglect led to a number of sunken vessels and the loss of other debris. The eventual closure of the A-8 due to safety and environmental concerns created an opportunity for the Port to partner with NOAA to clean up the Bay. Over the course of the project, everything from vessels and other boat parts, to a bathtub, washing machine, and even the proverbial kitchen sink was removed. These large items were lifted off the seafloor by skilled divers with the assistance of a ship-based crane.

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Since the closure of A-8 and the beginning of the project in 2008, the Port has seen a decrease in debris found in the Bay’s salt marsh and eelgrass beds. Less debris on shorelines and beneath the water’s surface doesn’t only lead to a more picturesque Bay, but it has a direct benefit to endangered species like the California least tern, Western snowy plover, and Eastern Pacific green sea turtles that rely on these habitats for nesting and foraging.

Unfortunately, vessel debris isn’t the only (or even the primary) source of marine debris in San Diego Bay and there is still a lot out there. Following the completion of the A-8 cleanup, the Port has continued to engage the local community through “Operation Clean Sweep,” an annual shoreline cleanup effort that brings out over 1,000 volunteers each year. Since the program began in 1990, over 10,000 people have volunteered to help remove hundreds of thousands of pounds of debris from sites around the bay.

Check out the original blog post on this effort and read more about this project on our website and on the Marine Debris Clearinghouse, including updates on the project from 2009 and 2012.

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Preventing Marine Debris in California

California isn’t only the site of innovative marine debris removal projects, but is also where some really interesting and creative prevention projects are taking place! Here are two new projects that the NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to be a part of:

ReThink Disposable is a project by the Clean Water Fund that works to combat the use of single-use items in restaurants. This project works directly with restaurants to help them make the transition to reusable items, reducing their waste and saving them money over time. Educational materials are also provided and displayed in order to educate customers and encourage them to make choices to reduce their contribution to marine debris. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Similarly, EarthTeam’s Zero Litter project works to prevent marine debris through youth service learning in San Francisco Bay Area communities. By engaging high school students in marine debris internships, not only are the students empowered to become leaders in such a movement, but other students and the community are also engaged and educated. In addition, the interns take part in shoreline cleanups and monitoring, lead community events and presentations, and disseminate all of their work to the public via blog posts. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

There is a lot of cool stuff going on in our California region! Keep your eyes on our blog this week for more!

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Fishermen Take the Lead in California Removal Efforts

Marine debris is a pervasive problem and unfortunately, our golden state on the west coast is not immune. However, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is supporting some innovative projects that are actively addressing this problem. To give you a cool example, California is the site of a nifty marine debris removal project that started last summer.

Led by the SeaDoc Society at the University of California, Davis and working with area fishermen, this project in Northern and Central California is working to fight a big debris problem: derelict crab traps. Derelict traps can cause all kinds of problems for marine life, recreational boaters, and for fishermen. Apart from losing expensive traps, the fishery suffers as derelict traps continue to capture crabs that could otherwise be caught by an active fisherman (a concept known as ghost fishing). To address this problem, commercial fishermen are going out during the closed crabbing season to recover lost pots.

A boat full of derelict crab traps collected by commercial fishermen.

The F/V Maureen full of derelict crab traps collected by commercial fishermen, including boat owner Bob Maharry . (Photo Credit: The SeaDoc Society)

These fishermen are collecting over 750 derelict crab pots, effectively restoring over 8,000 square feet of seafloor habitat, and then doing something pretty cool with them: selling them back. The fishermen sell the pots they recover back to the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association (HFMA), who then sells them to their original owner at a fleet-agreed price per trap. The proceeds are what fund the project the following year.

This project is building off a past effort supported by the MDP and its goal is to become self-sustaining so that it can continue as long as it’s needed. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Keep your eyes on our blog for more on our California region this week!

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Congratulations to the Winners of the First “Communicating for a Clean Future” Marine Debris PSA Competition!

The NOAA Marine Debris Program and our partners – Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Sea Grant, and the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory – are pleased to announce the winners of the first annual “Communicating for a Clean Future” Marine Debris Public Service Announcement Competition!

The competition was open to students in grades 9 through 12 from Ohio’s 9th Congressional District. After learning about the issue of marine debris in the ocean and Great Lakes through lessons and school activities, students were challenged to develop innovative public service announcements (PSAs) aimed at inspiring others to take action to prevent and reduce marine debris. This competition not only worked to engage students and to spread the message about marine debris, but empowered students to become leaders in their communities in the fight against it.

We received many impressive entries from high school students across Northern Ohio and are excited to share this year’s first, second, and third place winners with you:


Screen shot from the first place video.

First place winning video. Click on the above screen shot to watch the video!

First Place

  • By: Alyssa Viengmany
  • School: Clay High School, Oregon, Ohio
  • Teacher: Mr. Joe Carstensen





Screen shot from the second place video.

Second place winning video. Click on the above screen shot to watch the video!

Second Place

  • By: Ashley Kaufman, Madison Leffler, Olivia Schaefer, Hannah Schoen, and Abby Singler
  • School: Perkins High School, Sandusky, Ohio
  • Teacher: Ms. Ashlie Gowitzka




Screen shot of the third place video.

Third place winning video. Click on the above screen shot to watch the video!

Third Place

  • By: Natalie Barendt, Faith Cole, Joslyn Muniz, Spencer Nezovich, Esther Ngemba, Jadalise Pacheco, Stephanie Rolon, Grace Semon, and Margaret Sweeney
  • School: Saint Joseph Academy, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Teacher: Ms. Mary Ellen Scott



Today the winners joined Congresswoman Kaptur, Ohio Sea Grant, the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program to receive acknowledgement at the Cedar Point Physics, Science, and Math Week.

Based on the success of this year’s competition, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and our partners plan to hold the “Communicating for a Clean Future” Public Service Announcement Competition again next year and to expand it to include high schools in additional coastal districts in Ohio.


Another Successful Removal Mission in the NWHI Wraps Up

The 2016 Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine debris removal mission came to a close last Friday, May 13, successfully hauling in 12 tons of debris from Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. A marine debris team of 10 NOAA scientists was part of the removal effort that spanned 32 days cleaning Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary, Lisianski Island, and the French Frigate Shoals.

The annual removal mission, which began in 1996, has removed a total of 935 tons of marine debris to date including the 12 tons of marine debris from this year’s mission. The NOAA Marine Debris Program has supported this yearly effort since the program’s inception in 2006. As the program celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it also marks ten years of funding this removal effort in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. “This cross-agency effort to remove debris is a tremendous undertaking and it emphasizes the need to focus efforts on marine debris prevention to stop debris from showing up on these once pristine shorelines,” said Pacific Island Regional Coordinator Mark Manuel.

This year’s mission successfully removed a lot of interesting debris items, some of which are listed in the graphic below and also including:

  • 1468 beverage bottles
  • 4457 bottle caps
  • 1843 derelict fishing nets or net fragments
  • 485 toothbrushes and other personal care products
  • 570 shoes and flip-flop sandals

Take a closer look at this year’s mission from the beginninghalfway, and end points, and check out the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program’s interactive daily story map for a detailed look at this year’s effort.

An infographic portraying the amount of debris that has been removed friom the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The image shows volunteers in two boats loaded with derelict nets.


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Modeling Oceanic Transport of Floating Marine Debris: A New MDP Report

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is proud to announce the release of our new report detailing modeling methods to assess the movement of oceanic marine debris. Understanding the movement of debris allows us to have a better grasp on how it might distribute and accumulate within our ocean and on our shores.This report reviews the scientific literature that exists on the subject and outlines the methods that are available to gain this sort of insight.

Check out the new modeling report, which joins our reports on entanglement, ingestion, and ghost fishing on our website.

Cover of the modeling report.


Take Only Debris, Leave Only Footprints

By: Liat Portner, Amanda Dillon, and Kristen Kelly, Guest Bloggers and Scientists with the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program

The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program’s (CREP) removal mission in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is completed! For more on this effort, check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and take a look at CREP’s interactive daily map for details on daily activities.

Our team of ten embarked on the NOAA ship Hiʻialakai to begin our journey down the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. We began with the oldest and most northwestern of the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kure Atoll.

Landing on the shores of Kure, our team was greeted by the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources field crew, who remove debris throughout their field season. Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary is home to 18 different species of seabirds, the threatened green sea turtle, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Even with blustery winds and a chilly drizzle, we were in awe of this remote habitat and impressed with all the work being done to restore it for the wildlife.

The next day, a quick trip to the pier at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge provided a few hours to sweep clean the beaches of Sand Island. We discovered an Albatross chick with an oyster spacer stuck on its beak that we carefully removed—a reminder that debris of any size can be harmful.

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Next up, Pearl and Hermes Atoll! The bright waters of the lagoon seemed to glow in the sunlight as we navigated the vast maze of reefs. A giant stingray swooped by under the boat and spinner dolphins leapt off the bow.

While picking up plastic debris along the shore, we discovered a wedge-tailed shearwater bird that had burrowed into an eel trap. Liat carefully freed it but found four more birds stuck in the trap; unfortunately, all had already died—another first-hand experience of the deadly impact debris can have on wildlife.

Continuing on, we reached Lisianski, an island of fine, white, sandy shorelines surrounded by shallow reefs. Splitting into two teams, we stormed the shores—digging out nets buried in beach slopes and snarled in Heliotrope trees—to remove a total 2,500 pounds of derelict fishing nets. Our crew also jumped in to assist the NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to disentangle a large adult male seal that had a line of fishing net caught around his neck.

A day later, we arrived at Laysan Island, but high winds and swell converged to create conditions too dangerous for our light Zodiac boats. Fortunately, the NOAA monk seal team on the island is equipped with super sacks to collect debris during the season. Until next year, Laysan!

Last stop, French Frigate Shoals. Tern Island, though initially constructed as a runway, is now dominated by thousands of sooty terns. On approach to the island, the sound of bird calls gets louder and louder until it is a constant cacophony. We spent the day dodging bird nests and working to collect debris and nets.

In the last days of our mission, transiting back to our homes, we are left with thoughts of the work we just accomplished. The feat of removing more than 20,000 pounds of marine debris does not outweigh the fact that there is always more out there, being carried by the waves and winds to these distant shores. Although that thought can weigh us down, knowing that there are now 20,000 less pounds of debris in this beautiful place because of us reminds us of the power we have to be part of the solution, and makes us smile.


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