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Alaskan Marine Debris: A Podcast

The NOAA MArine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.Over the past ten years, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has worked to increase our regional presence and spread our reach throughout the country. These efforts have expanded our program to now include ten regions and eighteen staff. Seven years ago, Alaska became an official region of the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Interested in some of the marine debris work done in the United States’ largest and most remote state since then? You’re in luck! Last week, the National Ocean Service released the newest episode of their podcast, “Making Waves,” featuring our very own Peter Murphy of the NOAA Marine Debris Program! Peter’s been with the program for over eight years and in the role of Alaska Regional Coordinator since 2009. Check out some of his thoughts and stories about the work that has been done in Alaska during that time by listening to the podcast here.

A derelict vessel surrounded by sea ice and rough waves.

This derelict vessel, the F/V Ocean Clipper, was removed from Alaska’s St. Paul Island in 2010. (Photo Credit: NOAA)


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Through the Years with the NOAA Marine Debris Program

In case you missed it, this year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is celebrating our 10-year anniversary! Ten years ago, our program was authorized by the passing of the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (renamed “The Marine Debris Act” in 2012). A lot has happened since then. Take a look below at some of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s highlights from the past decade.

For more on our 10-year anniversary, stay tuned to our website (here) and blog (you’re already here) throughout the year. You can also find a PDF version of the below timeline here.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10-year timeline.

 


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On Marine Debris and Cows… the Early Days of the Marine Debris Program

By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA MArine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.In early 2005 I read an interesting email: a new program, called the “Marine Debris Program,” was being established in the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration to work on marine debris, a big and growing problem. Volunteers from current programs were needed, part time, to help this program get off the ground. Any takers?

At that time, the Pribilof Islands Environmental Restoration Project I had been part of for five years was winding down. I thought to myself, “Why not? I can do it!” And so I have, ever since. It would take over a year for the program to become official, mandated by the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, but the early days were interesting and exciting, and much good work was done.

Marine debris in logs on a beach.

Marine debris on the shore of Unalaska Island, Alaska. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

The program selected its first round of supported projects in the spring of 2005. The list included several interesting projects along the West Coast, where I work. These included two projects with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: one to remove marine debris from the rugged and remote beaches of the Olympic Peninsula, and the other, in partnership with the Makah Indian Tribe, to locate and remove derelict nets and crab pots from Neah Bay. The project in Neah Bay caught the attention of The Cousteau Society, who was on a filming tour of the U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries; they decided to focus their Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary segment on these efforts to remove derelict nets and pots.

The Northwest Straits Initiative, three years into their effort to find and remove derelict fishing nets from the Puget Sound, was also selected for funding. It was very interesting to join the net removal project team and learn the ins and outs of derelict net removal. It would take the Northwest Straits Initiative ten more years and much hard work and tenacity to conclude this long and very successful project.

During those first days, the most unusual project I was part of was removing marine debris along the very remote coast of Unalaska Island in Alaska. An oil spill occurred there the previous year, and a shoreline survey to assess oil impact was coupled with a marine debris survey. We created maps showing marine debris concentrations on the island, and a project was initiated to clean this marine debris, mostly derelict fishing gear. In September 2005, I headed up to Dutch Harbor, met with John Whitney (who initiated the project) and Dan Magone (our removal contractor), and joined the Magone Marine team for the cleanup. We boarded the Makushin Bay, an old but trusty vessel, previously a tender for drill rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. For four days, we removed over 13,000 pounds from five beaches along the west side of the island. The boat was our base, and a skiff was used to shuttle the cleanup team to the beaches and bring the collected debris to the boat.

The work was hard, but interesting and very satisfying. However, I found the most remarkable part to be the diversity of the people involved in this project. Part of the cleanup crew, four young guys from Sudan, part of the Lost Boys of Sudan who came to the U.S., had come to Alaska to work at the fish processing plant in Dutch Harbor, and later found their way to Magone Marine. They were all smart, hardworking, and very respectful men. They wouldn’t let me carry more than a bag of debris at a time because, when they found out my age, they said that I could be their grandfather! While working on one of the beaches, we saw a surreal image: several cows, grazing peacefully in the distance. The guys got very excited to see cows, especially in the middle of a remote island in Alaska, and told me all about the value of cows in Sudan, where wealth is measured, among other things, by the number of cows one owns. I learned a lot while working on Unalaska Island.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to stay in the program for very long—definitely not ten years—but I am glad I did. There is much to be said about working for a good cause, with an energetic group of people that are keen to get things done, and with the many excellent partners I get to work with who care deeply about the marine debris cause. It’s been a satisfying and interesting ten years.


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The NOAA Marine Debris Program Celebrates Ten Years: A Look Back

By: Dr. Holly A. Bamford Ph.D., current Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management with NOAA and original NOAA Marine Debris Program Director

The NOAA MArine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. We are proud of our accomplishments and looking forward to the next ten years! Stay tuned this week and throughout the year as we look back on the beginnings of our program.

 

Headshot of Dr. Holly A. Bamford Ph.D.

Dr. Holly A. Bamford Ph.D., current Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management with NOAA and original NOAA Marine Debris Program Director

It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since the passing of the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (renamed “The Marine Debris Act” in 2012), which effectively authorized the creation of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. In truth, the fight against marine debris started long before that.

The issue first came to public attention back in the late 1970s, when environmentalists expressed concern about the marine litter washing up on beaches. The most notable outreach campaign at the time was the cutting of 6-pack rings so marine life would not get entangled. However, it was not until the 1980s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, that the federal government took a coordinated approach to addressing marine debris. Needles and other medical waste had begun to wash ashore on beaches in New Jersey and New York and people were afraid. As New Jersey beachgoers skipped their usual trips to the shore, northeast state governments and agencies were concerned not just about the obvious health risks, but also about the sharp drop in tourism income. The issue was of such concern that President Reagan created an interagency task force to review the problem. NOAA chaired the task force made up of 13 federal departments and agencies. Soon after, NOAA put aside one million dollars to fund a basic program focused on the marine debris issue, to be run by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Over time, that program’s funding started to decline as resources were needed to address other critical fisheries management issues.

Although the marine debris problem continued to stay in the public’s mind, the urgency died down and funding for marine debris efforts began to drop. However, in 2005, fueled in part by the heightening debris issue in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Senators Inouye (Hawaii) and Stevens (Alaska) introduced legislation for the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, as well as a five million dollar Congressional earmark (a provision at the time that directed approved funds to specific projects) for marine debris efforts. The funding passed and went to support a new program in the NOAA National Ocean Service: the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Although the NOAA Marine Debris Program was not an official program yet, we chose to treat it as such. I was brought on board to act as the director of this group on a short-term basis. Five other team members, Nir Barnea, Sarah Morrison, Kris McElwee, Donna Lawson, and Kevin Kirsch, were the first to join me. There was a lot of uncertainty at that time; all we had was a concept—an earmark and draft legislation—with no guarantee for the future. However, we all felt that this was an opportunity for NOAA to build a program that made a difference in an important issue.

Holly and David M. Kennedy (current Deputy Under Secretary for Operations at NOAA) participating in the International Coastal Cleanup in 2005. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Holly and David M. Kennedy (current Deputy Under Secretary for Operations at NOAA) participating in the International Coastal Cleanup in 2005. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Starting out, my goals were first to get the program authorized, given steady appropriations, and then made into a division to be fully integrated into the NOAA network. Efforts in the early days were focused on accomplishing these goals by working to fully understand the issues, establish partnerships, build a vision for the program, and conduct outreach that would allow that vision and the marine debris issue to be heard. Acting as a program before we were even authorized allowed Congress to see the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s true potential. Due in a large part to advocating for our cause, the Marine Debris Act was signed in 2006, and the accomplishment of our other goals soon followed.

Although I was originally brought on for a four-month appointment, I was with the Marine Debris Program for over four years. As the program’s first director, and then from other positions within NOAA, I have enjoyed seeing it grow throughout the years, both in size and strength. So much dedication and passion has been put into the program and I am proud to have been a part of starting it. I look forward to seeing all that the Marine Debris Program can accomplish over the next ten years.


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I Crab, You Crab, We Crab (While Properly Rigging Our Pots)!

Lots of news from the Mid-Atlantic region! First, a BIG winter storm is heading that way and we encourage all to plan accordingly and stay safe during the severe winter weather. If you need tips on how to prepare for such an event, click here. Second, once the snow has come and gone, three new projects can continue their work and collaboration to fight marine debris throughout New Jersey waters and shores. Here’s a quick look at these exciting efforts:

 

A "Rig It Right" kit and an example of how to use it to rig a crab pot.

“Rig It Right” kits, provided by the WeCrab project at their workshops for recreational crabbers. (Photo Credit: Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve; Steve Evert)

Teaming up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Rutgers University and partners are leading efforts to prevent derelict fishing gear and other debris from entering local coastal and marine environments. This “WeCrab” project addresses the issue of lost crab pots, which are often the result of recreational crabbers that don’t know how to properly rig their gear. To do this, the WeCrab project is hosting workshops to teach crabbers how to rig their pots right, teacher professional development trainings, and small-scale crab pot removals. Read more about this exciting project here.

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is also making strides in the fight against marine debris and working with the WeCrab Project for some of its efforts. Focusing in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, this project is not only working to remove derelict crab pots, but also to better understand how many pots are lost and what their impacts are. Prevention is the ultimate solution, so in addition to removing over a thousand derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, this project is also conducting education and outreach activities, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Check out more about this project here.

 

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

See how well things work when we work together? Another New Jersey project is working to rid its shores of marine debris, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Focusing on Southern New Jersey, Stockton University, with a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, is not only removing crab pots from coastal bays, but is also educating and training crabbers how to prevent trap loss and use low-cost sonar to locate and recover lost pots. Check out more about this project here.

Such exciting things are happening in the Mid-Atlantic region this year! Stay tuned to the NOAA Marine Debris Program website and blog for updates on projects in this region and throughout the country.


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The Dilemma of Derelict Gear

A boat full of derelict crab pots. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict crab pots can be damaging in many ways. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict fishing gear can create a lot of problems: hazards to navigation, damage to sensitive habitats, and ghostfishing. Ghostfishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to capture marine life. This is obviously bad news for local marine animals that can end up ensnared in derelict gear, but it can be harmful to local fisheries too. That’s what scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) think and set out to prove.

VIMS researchers considered that apart from the obvious financial loss of losing gear, fisheries may suffer due to competition between active and derelict gear, specifically blue crab pots. Their research and analysis, funded in part by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, evaluates the hypothesis that derelict crab pots compete with active gear by attracting target species that might otherwise be attracted to actively-fished crab pots. This reduces commercial fishery harvests and revenues and is thus a lose-lose situation for both the crabs and crabbers.

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

To test this hypothesis, VIMS researchers created a model that allowed them to assess fishery harvests in Virginia with and without derelict gear present. Using this model, they compared fishery harvests with derelict crab pots removed via a large-scale removal project, and a hypothetical scenario where no pots were removed. The comparison also accounted for other factors that could potentially impact harvests, such as stock abundance and environmental conditions, so that the effect of derelict gear removal could be isolated.

The results of this comparison indicated that the Virginia Marine Debris Location and Removal Program, which removed 34,408 derelict crab pots over six years, increased crab harvests in Virginia by 27%, or by 30 million pounds valued at $21.3 million for fishermen! This was the direct result of reduced gear competition and thus the improved efficiency of active crab pots. Removal was found especially effective in highly-fished areas with higher rates of pot loss. Extending their findings globally, VIMS researchers speculate that removing about 10% of derelict pots and traps could increase crustacean harvests by over 600 million pounds per year. These findings exhibit just one of the many damaging effects of derelict fishing gear.

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

This study and its results were accepted for publication by the journal Nature Scientific Reports (for you non-science folks, that’s a big deal), with VIMS researchers A. M. Scheld, D. M. Bilkovic, and K. J. Havens as authors on the paper. For more on these and associated efforts, check out the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.


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Marine Debris in the Mid-Atlantic & What the National Aquarium is Doing About It

The marine debris found in the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Mid-Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia, is often tied to the Chesapeake Bay. This important body of water is enjoyed by many people who come to visit or live close by in one of the many urbanized areas on the bay, including Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Unfortunately, lots of people often mean lots of marine debris. The NOAA Marine Debris Program works to fight debris in the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways by focusing on prevention, removal, and research. This year, there are lots of exciting things happening in the Mid-Atlantic region to continue our fight against marine debris!

One such project is located in Baltimore, Maryland, where the NOAA Marine Debris Program is teaming up with the National Aquarium to clean up and prevent marine debris. This project is working to create a network of neighborhood leaders to initiate and lead marine debris prevention efforts in their communities, with the aim of creating lasting behavior change that will help to prevent trash from becoming marine debris in the first place. Focusing on a highly urbanized area with a big marine debris problem, the National Aquarium is working with local communities to create a prevention program, as well as holding workshops and communication training sessions with community volunteers to help people spread the word to their neighbors! In addition to these prevention efforts, the project is also running cleanup events that will help to eliminate some of the debris that has already accumulated in the area.

For more information on this project, visit the project profile page on our website.

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