NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Leave a comment

Recycling with the NOAA Marine Debris Program: A Look Back

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, including promoting beneficial behaviors like recycling. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at some of our recycling efforts throughout the years.


The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is the federal lead to address marine debris and one of the key areas we focus on is preventing debris in the first place. In this vein, we often refer back to the “3 Rs”— reduce, reuse, recycle. This is an important message for our program— encouraging people to reduce the amount of disposables they use, reuse items when they can, recycle whenever possible, and to generally think about how their actions may contribute to marine debris. It can be very difficult to completely eradicate disposable items from your life, so recycling items so they can be converted into something new is a great way to prevent them from becoming marine debris.

Recycle symbol with "reduce, reuse. recycle" around it.

Over the years, we have been involved in many efforts to promote recycling. This includes the Fishing for Energy program which began in 2008, modeled after the Hawaiʻi Nets to Energy effort. Fishing for Energy is a partnership between the MDP, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel Industries, and works to provide a cost-free way for fishermen to recycle their gear. This program recycles any metal, and then converts the remaining material into usable energy!

Many of the projects we support work to actively recycle waste materials or perform outreach to encourage others. Back in 2006, the MDP became involved in a project led by the BoatUS Foundation which focused on increasing awareness of marine debris and creating a nationwide network of monofilament (think fishing line) recycling containers. Constructing and installing these recycling bins helped to prevent monofilament line from becoming dangerous marine debris (monofilament line can be especially dangerous for marine animals that can get entangled in it). Instead, it can get a new life by being recycled!

Recycling has been a focus for the MDP and will continue to be a focus in the future. If we can all commit to recycling when possible and to educating ourselves to make sure we’re recycling correctly, then together we can make a big difference!

1 Comment

Recycle Right!

By: Emma Tonge, Intern with the NOAA Marine Debris Program

In the United States, the typical person creates an average 4.40 pounds of waste every day (according to the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet). When thinking about this trash, we tend to think of it as worthless and without any use. However, a large part of our daily waste actually has value and can be given a second life through recycling.

A large heap of trash at a recycling center.

That’s a lot of trash! Luckily, all this waste is getting ready to be recycled at a recycling center. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Recycling is not only a great way to reduce your impact, but also a great way to prevent marine debris. When you make the choice to recycle your used plastic, glass, metal, and paper, these materials are diverted from landfills and the environment, and turned into new and usable items. Plastic materials are especially versatile and can be turned into many new products, including construction materials, jackets, or even carpeting.

Infographic showing the various types of plastics and what they can be turned into after recycling.

Plastic items can often be recycled and turned into a variety of new products! (Credit: NOAA)

You may be asking, but how do I recycle correctly? That depends on the recycling facilities in your local community! Remember that not all facilities are the same, technology changes, and many areas of the country provide different options. Some can take almost any item with the recycling symbol on it, all mixed together in one bin, and separate them by machine or by hand. Certain machines can even recognize different materials, using an optical sorter and a burst of air to separate PET and HDPE from other types of plastic. Other recycling facilities may not be able to handle certain types of materials or single-stream recyclables (when all materials are mixed together when collected), instead requiring you to separate your items before they hit the curb.

Find out if recycling is available where you live by heading to your city or county website, or by looking up your zip code on You can find information on services available to you, as well as guidelines on how to recycle right. Rather than “wish-cycling” or guessing what is okay to recycle in your area, let’s work to become more informed about recycling options in our neighborhoods!

Unfortunately, marine debris continues to threaten the marine environment. However you (yes, you!) can make a difference by disposing of your waste responsibly and giving it a new life through recycling!

Leave a comment

Lost Crab Pot Removal by the Quileute Indian Tribe

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

“Come aboard, I’ll show you the boat,” said Lonnie Foster, a tribal leader with the Quileute Indian Tribe, and fisherman from a young age. The three of us— Kara Cardinal (Project Manager with the Nature Conservancy), Jennifer Hagen (Fisheries Biologist and Project Manager for the Quileute Tribe), and myself (representing the NOAA Marine Debris Program)— climbed aboard Lonnie’s boat, the F/V C.F. Todd, docked at the marina in La Push. We got a quick tour of the boat and the crabbing gear aboard.

When it comes to crab fishing, Lonnie has seen a lot: massive storms and monstrous waves (the height of the Dungeness crabbing season is in the stormy dead of winter), ocean currents so swift that they pull the crab pot floats under the sea surface, and of course, lots of lost crab pots. No fisherman wants to lose pots— they’re expensive. However, the Dungeness crab fishery, well-managed and sustainable otherwise, loses pots frequently— possibly up to 10% of the total average 100,000 pots fished in Washington State every year. That’s a lot of lost pots.

Jennifer and Kara with a stack of recovered crab pots.

Jennifer and Kara with a stack of recovered crab pots. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

This is why Lonnie, as well as other Quileute Tribes fishers, are part of a project to survey and remove lost crab pots in the fishing area of the Quileute Tribe. A collaboration of the Nature Conservancy, The Quileute Indian Tribe, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the project will use local knowledge on the location of lost crab pots, augment it with aerial surveys using a small aircraft to spot lost pots, and employ tribal fishers to recover the pots. Recovered crab pots in good shape will be reused, and non-usable pots will be recycled or disposed of.

A view of the La Push Marina.

A view of the La Push Marina. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Most importantly, the Quileute Indian Tribe, like the Quinault Indian Nation which is involved in a similar project, is committed to addressing crab pot loss beyond this one project. The Tribe will develop its crab pot prevention, reporting, and removal program to help make a difference and reduce the number of lost crab pots out in the ocean.


Ten Years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program: 2010

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.

This year marks the ten year anniversary of the NOAA Marine Debris Program and we will be celebrating throughout the year! As part of our celebration, we will be looking back on our accomplishments over the years (check out our timeline for a review of the past decade!). Let’s take a look back to 2010:


The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) was busy in 2010! To start, our annual student art contest began! Every year, students in kindergarten through eighth grade can submit artwork illustrating the issue of marine debris and potential solutions. The winners are featured in our annual calendar, raising awareness about this important topic. This contest has continued yearly since its 2010 inception, with this year’s contest bringing in more than 700 entries! Check out this year’s winners on our website.

This was also the year that the Hawaiʻi Marine Debris Action Plan (HI-MDAP) was published, making it the first state-level action plan to address marine debris. It established a comprehensive framework for strategic action to reduce the impacts of marine debris by 2020. This plan is revisited and updated periodically at dedicated HI-MDAP workshops. Since the establishment of the Hawaiʻi Action Plan, other regions have followed suit, such as the Great Lakes.

Derelict fishing gear sitting at the bottom in Hawaiian waters.

The Hawaiʻi Marine Debris Action Plan addresses marine debris in Hawaiʻi. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Speaking of the Great Lakes, guess which region joined the MDP in 2010? That’s right! The MDP continued to expand its regional presence by adding the Great Lakes region. That brought our regional focus to a total of six regions– East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, Pacific Islands, Alaska, and now the Great Lakes (today we have a total of ten)!

Plastic on a Great Lakes beach.

Plastic marine debris is a problem for the Great Lakes region. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

The Marine Debris Tracker App also made its debut in 2010. This app was created by a joint partnership between the MDP and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative through the University of Georgia. The app allows users to input valuable information about the debris they collect without the commitment of participating in a fully-developed monitoring program. This type of data provides important baseline knowledge which can be used to inform efforts to address marine debris. Try it out for yourself!

The Marine Debris Tracker App logo and the saying "Marine Debris Tracker: Leave only waves and footprints behind...".

The Marine Debris Tracker App is an easy and efficient way for citizen scientists to collect data on a global scale. (Photo Credit: NOAA and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative)

Keep an eye on our blog throughout the year to learn about more of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s accomplishments over the past decade.

Leave a comment

Responding to Marine Debris Incidents: MDP Guides

Unfortunately, incidents that cause marine debris are an unavoidable part of life. Events like severe storms, floods, tsunamis, or maritime disasters can all result in a large influx of debris. To improve preparedness for response to and recovery from such events, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is facilitating planning efforts in coastal states. These efforts work to outline existing response structures at the local, state, and federal levels, capturing all relevant responsibilities and existing procedures into one guidance document for easy reference. The process first includes the development of the guidance document, followed by drills to test response effectiveness, and finally, supporting the integration of this information into other existing response plans.

Derelict vessels washed up on the shore.

Established response guides will help state and local officials, along with federal partners, respond to acute marine debris incidents in coastal states. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

It is a highly collaborative effort, with input from local, state, and federal entities active in the region. The creation of these documents, which are fluid documents that are regularly updated, aims to facilitate a more timely and effective response to waterway debris incidents in our coastal states. Check out the response guides that are currently available:

  • Florida Incident Waterway Debris Response Guide: This guide is our most recent completed effort and was just uploaded to our website earlier this month!
  • Alabama Incident Waterway Debris Response Plan: This plan was our first completed plan following our newly-established response plan process. It was completed in May 2015 and updated in April 2016.
  • West Coast Efforts: The 2011 tsunami in Japan was a natural disaster that resulted in many lives lost, property damaged or destroyed, and a large amount of debris introduced into the ocean. Pacific states began to see some of this debris washing up on their shores, prompting the creation of response plans. The NOAA Marine Debris Program worked in close collaboration with partners in the development of these plans. These efforts resulted in response plans for Washington (modified in 2015 to be more relevant for events outside debris from the 2011 tsunami), Oregon, and California, as well as a Marine Debris and Severe Marine Debris Event section in the Northwest Area Contingency Plan, and provided a model for our current response efforts.

It is important for local, state, and federal agencies within each coastal state to be prepared to respond efficiently and effectively in the event of an acute marine debris incident, including a severe marine debris event. It is our hope that with these regional response guides in place, the impact of debris associated with these events can be mitigated as much as possible.

This is an ongoing effort and the guide for North Carolina is coming soon! The process has also begun in Mississippi and South Carolina, with more on the horizon. For more information on our response planning efforts and to access the available guidance documents, visit our website.

Leave a comment

Celebrate the Fourth, Debris-Free!

The Fourth of July is almost here and that means it’s time to celebrate! As you enjoy this holiday weekend, make sure that you’re thinking not only of our country, but of our environment, and keep your celebration debris-free!

Take some of these tips into consideration when planning your festivities:

Have a fun, safe, and clean Fourth of July!

Fireworks in the night sky over water.

Leave a comment

Trash Talk Wins a Regional Emmy® Award!

On Saturday, June 25, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and NOAA Ocean Today’s TRASH TALK Special Feature received a Regional Emmy® Award from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in the Informational/Instructional Program/Special category. This 15-minute feature explains what marine debris is, how it affects our ocean, and what people can do to prevent it.

Trash Talk screenshot, labeled with "2015 Regional Emmy® Winner" amd with an image of the Emmy Award (© NATAS/ Television Academy).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 562 other followers