NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Help Us Reduce Marine Debris Threats to Endangered Species

By: Dianna Parker

Marine debris impacts many species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including species of sea turtles, whales, seals, and even corals. These fragile populations face a variety of stressors in the ocean from humans, derelict fishing gear, trash, and other debris.

Derelict fishing nets or other synthetic debris in the ocean often entangles animals, leaving them wounded, unable to hunt or swim. Heavy nets and other gear can crush coral and degrade habitat.

And many species mistake plastic for food. All seven species of sea turtles eat marine debris – plastic bags in particular. In August 2014, a dead endangered sei whale washed ashore in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and researchers found a broken CD case in its stomach. Recent research shows we are putting eight million metric tons of plastic into the ocean.

Here are a few photos of these impacts:

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The good news is, we can help protect endangered and threatened species from these impacts by paying a little extra attention to our waste.

This Endangered Species Day, everyone can recommit to using less single-use plastic items, recycling plastics, or reminding friends and family that releasing balloons into the air can harm sea life.

Fishermen can dispose of old, unwanted fishing gear through programs like Fishing for Energy or Reel in and RecycleIn the meantime, there are groups all over the world working to prevent gear loss, through collaboration and innovation.

Or, help us spread awareness, especially to youth. We provide activities and curriculum that can help educate youth on marine debris and inspire ocean stewardship.

(Also, don’t forget to take a look at NOAA’s “Species in the Spotlight.” According to our colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, “of all the species NOAA protects under the ESA, we consider eight among the most at risk of extinction in the near future.”)

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Marine Debris Affects a Species Whether It Is Endangered or Not

By: Dianna Parker

Monk seal resting on a derelict net.

Marine debris throughout the ocean puts endangered species like this Hawaiian monk seal at risk.
(Photo: NOAA)

Marine debris impacts hundreds of species around the globe, including endangered species such as the Hawaiian monk seal. Derelict and abandoned fishing gear is a major culprit behind entanglements, and our colleagues in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reminded us all yesterday that even though some of these animals live in marine sanctuary safe havens, they are still not free from marine debris: 

“Although the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are one of the most remote places in the United States, the marine ecosystem there is still under pressure from human impacts. Papahānuamokuākea Marine National Monument provides one of the last remaining refuges for monk seals, whose population has shrunk to only 1,100 animals.”

With Endangered Species Day approaching this Friday, we’ll take a look at some other endangered or threatened species throughout the week – including turtles and whales – and how they’re impacted by marine debris. But today, let’s celebrate the Hawaiian monk seal (and the NOAA folks who removed the 11.5-ton derelict net on which this seal is taking its nap).


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Giving Back to Mother Earth

By: Asma Mahdi

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and last month we all took some time to celebrate one of the greatest mothers of all: Mother Earth.

April, being Earth Month, was full of activities to help protect and restore our ocean planet. The NOAA Marine Debris Program thanks all the volunteers that came out to celebrate Mother Earth. Our staff and partners took to local lakes, rivers, streams, and coasts to help with the effort of keeping our waters clean. Here’s a look at some of our April highlights:

CoastSavers (Washington)

More than 80 volunteers came out at first “light” to cleanup parts of Washington’s outer coastline at Sand Point and Cape Alava.

CoastSavers, a program of the Washington Clean Coast Alliance (WCCA), has been organizing and coordinating the Earth Day cleanup since 2007. A coalition of federal, state, and local  agencies, Indian Tribes, NGO, industry and citizen volunteers, the WCCA works throughout the year to address marine debris, and supports to execute such a large event, with over 50 sites cleaned.


A high-five for a job well done removing debris from Washington’s outer coastline and trekking it back for disposal!


Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) (Washington, D.C.)

NOAA staff and volunteers participated in AWS’ annual Earth Day cleanup event in the nation’s capitol. The cleanup took place at more than 30 sites throughout Anacostia’s watershed. Volunteers joined forces to remove debris from neighborhoods, parks, streams, and the Anacostia river.

IMG_4794NOAA staff dig deep to remove debris from Anacostia River’s shoreline.

Surfrider, San Francisco Chapter (California)

Keeping their environmental footprint in mind, Surfrider’s San Francisco chapter hosted a low-waste beach cleanup in Ocean Beach, CA. They provided reusable buckets for volunteers to collect marine debris. This helped reduce the use of plastic bags used at the cleanup site.


Volunteers return with marine debris in reusable buckets at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach cleanup.

Texas GLO Spring Cleanup (Texas)

Into it’s 29th year, the annual Texas Adopt-A-Beach Spring Cleanup attracted nearly 5,000 volunteers this past month. They removed 60 tons of debris from 150 miles from the state’s shorelines.


Cleanup volunteers take-on a spread of plastic water bottles that have accumulated on San Jose Island, TX.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii (Hawaii)

Local organizations, such as Kailua Beach Adventures, teamed up with Sustainable Coastline Hawaii to clean Hawaii’s beaches and involve the community during Earth Month. Last year, Kailua Beach Adventures won the “Microplastic Sand Sifter” competition with Sustainable Coastline Hawaii.

sand sifter

Volunteers sifted sand to find microplastics and nurdles that are often hidden.

A huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers and happy Mother’s Day to Mother Earth!

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Let’s Show Our Teachers Appreciation

By: Leah Henry

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day, so we in the NOAA Marine Debris Program would like to give a great big thank you to all teachers, especially those who spend time talking about marine debris in their classrooms.

Here are some tools to help teachers with marine debris lessons: We offer free downloadable activities and curriculum on our website, we fund and support marine debris prevention through education and outreach projects through regional partnership grants, and we host an annual marine debris art contest to engage students and empower their communities in taking steps to “Keep the Sea Free of Debris!” Stay tuned for this year’s contest, opening in the fall.

Thank you teachers and educators – both formal and informal. We appreciate all that you do to keep our students informed and our environment clean.


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One community’s dogged determination removes 90 unclaimed vessels

By: Kim Albins and Leah Henry

MOBILE, ALABAMA — Project partners tripled their intended removal of 24 to 36 high priority abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) and were able to remove 90 ADVs! This wildly successful removal project in coastal Alabama, led by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Dog River Clearwater Revival resulted in more than 130 metric tons of debris removed from Dog River, Fowl River and on the Dauphin Island Causeway!

By combining dogged determination and the overwhelming support from the local community with the NOAA Restoration Center and Marine Debris Program’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant  this group greatly exceeded their goals and made a huge difference in the Dog River and Fowl River watersheds.

This ADV removal effort included 12 organizations, 87 volunteers (1,611 hours donated), and support from across Alabama’s coast.

In phase 1 of the removal, the team contracted Lovvorn Pile Driving, Inc. to remove up to 36 vessels. Mr. Lovvorn’s local knowledge and desire for a clean watershed ensured the project’s success and resulted in lower removal costs.

In phase 2, DISL worked with J&W Marine, expanding into parts of the Fowl River watershed. When contacted to discuss the contract, Wayne Eldridge, owner of J&W Marine and former commercial oysterman, stated, “I would have done the work for free. I’ve wanted to clean that up for years.” Eldridge’s interest and long‐standing relationships in coastal Alabama benefited this project and the health of the Fowl River watershed.

In addition to this impressive removal operation, the team has been spreading the message to prevent ADVs. By educating the surrounding community, the team aims to reduce the number of vessels abandoned in Alabama’s emergent wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation, riparian boundaries, and un-vegetated soft river bottoms. They have also replanted native submerged aquatic vegetation to restore the habitat and have already witnessed the return of local vegetation and wildlife. The team continues to conduct research on the impacts of ADVs on water quality and habitat and share what they have learned with others around dealing with similar ADV issues around the United States.

To read more about this project on the NOAA MDP website:


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Lagoon Keepers Battle the Status Quo: ADVs in Palm Beach County Florida

By: Sarah Latshaw

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA — On average, removes one abandoned and derelict vessel each month, which is merely keeping pace with the number of vessels that become abandoned or derelict in local waterways.

With support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-based marine Debris Removal Grant, is on course to remove 31 Abandoned and Derelict Vessels by June 2016. That is approximately 310 tons of debris. After removal, the vessels are either salvaged or broken down and disposed of in a pre-approved landfill, per local requirements and environmental regulations. This removal will improve the marine environment and benefit the diverse wildlife in this area.

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Read more about this project on the NOAA MDP Website: Derelict Vessel Removal in Florida’s Palm Beach County

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A Derelict Dirty Dozen Vessels Targeted for Removal in Coral Bay

By: Leah Henry and Jason Rolfe

CORAL BAY, ST. JOHN, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — After a boat grounding, owners and volunteers often manage to refloat the vessel. But over the last 24 years, many vessels have been abandoned and currently pose a hazard within Inner Coral Harbor’s shallow waters. Removing these derelict vessels before strong storms will prevent them from battering the surrounding mangroves and marine habitat, and protect Coral Bay from damage.

With support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, the Coral Bay Community Council (CBCC), a non-profit organization committed to the healthy future of Coral Bay, adds the removal of up to 12 derelict vessels to their list of accomplishments. CBCC regularly engages the community in environmental education, infrastructure design, and environmentally-responsible land development and planning.

The marine debris removal and disposal in this project will work in concert with the progress CBCC has already made in its integrated solid waste management design that emphasizes reduction, reuse, and recycling. That planning project provides recommendations for the placement and removal of new and existing dumpsters. CBCC will also work with the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority to improve waste management practices and make recycling more efficient and convenient.

In addition to derelict vessel removal, this project involves volunteers in the removal of small and medium-sized debris, expands a marine debris reporting and reduction program, and conducts education activities focused on tourists, boaters, and shoreline restaurants to reduce land-based debris.

Read more about this project on the NOAA MDP Website: Coral Bay Community Council Removes Derelict Vessels in USVI

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