NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Marine Debris as a Potential Pathway for Invasive Species: A New MDP Report

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is proud to announce the release of our new report detailing the potential of marine debris to act as a pathway for the introduction of invasive species.

There is mounting concern over the increase in debris in our ocean and the potential for that debris to assist in the spread of non-native species. While the pathways associated with global shipping draw the greatest amount of attention regarding marine invasives, the purpose of this paper is to consider the potential role that marine debris may play in introducing non-native species that may become invasive. This report reviews the scientific literature that exists on the subject and identifies areas where more research is needed.

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

Cover of Marine Debris as a Potential Pathway for Invasive Species report.


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Addressing Marine Debris in the Mid-Atlantic

Jason Rolfe.Meet Jason Rolfe, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP’s) Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator! After earning his B.S. in Environmental Sciences from Frostburg State University, Jason began work at NOAA, where he has worked as a cartographer, an environmental scientist, and a project manager for the past 21 years. Jason joined the MDP in 2011 as the Acting Deputy Director, working on operational tasks as well as focusing on emergency response, planning for the marine debris that washed up on West Coast states after the 2011 Japan tsunami. Since then, he’s also led the MDP’s efforts to address debris in East Coast states resulting from Hurricane Sandy and in 2013, assumed his current position with the Program. Reach out to Jason at jason.rolfe@noaa.gov!

 

The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Mid-Atlantic region, encompassing coastal states from New Jersey to Virginia, is no stranger to the impacts of marine debris. Like many coastal areas around the country, this region is often inundated with debris ranging from derelict fishing gear to consumer debris. Luckily, there are several awesome efforts currently underway to address marine debris in the Mid-Atlantic. Check out some newly-established projects funded by the MDP:

In order to address debris at the root of the problem, we must focus on preventing it at its source. Trash Free Maryland is working to prevent the creation of debris in Baltimore, Maryland through a multi-year social marketing campaign. They’re focusing on land-based litter and starting with a pilot campaign utilizing trusted community mentors before expanding their messaging to reach a broader Baltimore audience. The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of litter in Baltimore by encouraging the feeling of responsibility regarding litter and instilling pride in the community to lead to cleaner neighborhoods and waterways. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Trash on a sidewalk.

Like many places, land-based litter is a problem in Baltimore and so Trash Free Maryland is working to reduce this debris. (Photo Credit: Trash Free Maryland)

Although prevention is the ultimate solution, removal of debris is unfortunately necessary. To address some of the debris that’s already out there, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Delaware Coastal Program is working with local crabbers to locate and remove over 1,000 derelict crab pots from the Delaware portion of the Delaware Bay. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Someone taking a derelict crab pot out of the water.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Delaware Coastal Program is working to remove derelict crab pots from the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Running in tandem with the Delaware Coastal Program’s project, the New Jersey Audubon is leading a similar project in the New Jersey waters of the Delaware Bay. Working with Northstar Marine and Stockton University, they are striving to locate and remove over 2,000 derelict crab pots from three critical areas of coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay. In addition, they’re training local commercial crabbers to use low-cost sonar devices to locate lost pots in order to limit the re-accumulation of pots after removal. For more information on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Someone holding a derelict crab pot and a pile of derelict crab pots.

The New Jersey Audubon is working to remove derelict crab pots from coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA (left); NJ Audubon (right))

There are lots of cool things happening in the Mid-Atlantic! Keep your eye on our blog this week for more, and check out our website for more interesting marine debris projects in the Mid-Atlantic and throughout the country!


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Mississippi Marine Debris Emergency Response: A New Comprehensive Guide for the State

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is proud to announce the release of the new Marine Debris Emergency Response document for Mississippi! This guide takes existing roles and authorities, as they relate to response to an incident that generates large amounts of debris in coastal waterways, and presents them in one guidance document for easy reference. By collaborating with local, state, and federal entities active in the region, this guide aims to facilitate a more timely and effective response to marine debris incidents in Mississippi.

Check out the Mississippi Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide on our website!

Cover of the Mississippi Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide.


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Love Our Ocean This Valentine’s Day!

It’s Valentine’s Day, so take some time today to show our ocean some love. We get a lot from the ocean—food, travel, even clean air to breathe— so return the love by thinking about how you can help protect it from marine debris. Consider how you might contribute to the marine debris problem and think about changes you could make to help. Do you bring reusable bags to the grocery store? Do you drink out of a reusable bottle at work? Do you recycle the items you use as often as possible? Following the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle!) whenever you can makes a big difference for our ocean.

If you’d like to make a bigger gesture, consider helping to spread the word about marine debris or getting involved in a cleanup event! There are lots of free outreach materials on our website and our monthly e-newsletter lists cleanups happening throughout the country each month. No matter how you choose to show the ocean some love, every little bit helps. Let’s work together to love our ocean and give it the attention it deserves!

Happy Valentine’s Day from the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Child's drawing of waves with marine debris that says to be part of the solution and to love the ocean.

(Credit: 2017 Marine Debris Calendar Art Contest Winner, Maile R., Grade 1, Hawaii)


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Debunking the Myths About Garbage Patches

Although most of us have heard the term “garbage patch” before, many probably don’t have a full understanding of what the term really means. In recent years, there has been a lot of misinformation spread about garbage patches and so now we’re here to try to clear up some of these myths.

Graphic of a garbage patch with the words "What are garbage patches?"

First, what are garbage patches? Well, garbage patches are areas of increased concentration of marine debris that are formed from rotating ocean currents called gyres and although they may not be as famous as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” there are actually several garbage patches around the world! So let’s address some of the most common questions and misconceptions about garbage patches:

Are garbage patches really islands of trash that you can actually walk on? Nope! Although garbage patches have higher amounts of marine debris, they’re not “islands of trash” and you definitely can’t walk on them. The debris in the garbage patches is constantly mixing and moving due to winds and ocean currents. This means that the debris is not settled in a layer at the surface of the water, but can be found from the surface, throughout the water column, and all the way to the bottom of the ocean. Not only that, but the debris within the garbage patches is primarily made up of microplastics, which are plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size. Many of these microplastics are the result of larger plastic debris that has broken into small pieces due to exposure to the sun, salt, wind, and waves. Others, such as microbeads from products like facewashes or microfibers from synthetic clothing, are already small in size when they enter the water. With such small debris items making up the majority of the garbage patches and the constant movement of this debris, it’s possible to sail through a garbage patch without even realizing it!

I heard that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the size of Texas and you can see it from space! Since the garbage patches are constantly moving and mixing with winds and ocean currents, their size continuously changes. They can be very large, but since they’re made up primarily of microplastic debris, they definitely can’t be seen from space.

A small piece of debris on the tip of someone's finger.

Since the garbage patches are primarily made up of very small microplastic debris that is constantly mixing throughout the water column, they definitely can’t be seen from space. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Why don’t we just clean them up? Unfortunately, cleaning up the garbage patches is pretty complicated. Since the debris making them up is not only constantly mixing and moving, but also extremely small in size, removing this debris is very difficult. For these reasons, we generally focus removal efforts on our shorelines and coastal areas, before debris items have the chance to make it to the open ocean and before they have broken into microplastic pieces, which are inherently difficult to remove from the environment. However, preventing marine debris is the key to solving the problem! If you think about an overflowing sink, it’s obvious that the first step before cleaning up the water on the floor is to turn the faucet off—that’s exactly what prevention is! By working to prevent marine debris through education and outreach, and each doing our part to reduce our contribution, we can stop this problem from growing.

Want to learn more about the garbage patches? Check out this blog post or visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website where you can find more information as well as our Trash Talk video on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Interested in learning the truth behind other myths? Check out the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration website throughout the week for more myth debunking!


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Derelict Fishing Nets and the Pacific Islands

Derelict fishing nets are a big marine debris problem. These nets can entangle wildlife, create major hazards to navigation, and can damage sensitive and important habitats. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to address as they often have few identifying characteristics. This makes determining their source challenging and makes derelict nets difficult to track.

Derelict fishing nets are a particularly large problem in the Hawaiian archipelago, due to Hawaii’s geographic location in the North Pacific Gyre and Convergence Zone and the large amounts of fishing that occurs domestically and internationally in the Pacific. The North and East Coast shorelines of each Hawaiian Island are the most impacted, due to the northeast trade winds that blow this debris ashore. These nets may come from local origin or from far-off sources throughout the Pacific, but it’s difficult to tell without identifying markers such as a specific regional style (which can often be used to determine the general source of debris like derelict crab traps), serial numbers, or writing. Interestingly, Hawaii’s main commercial fishing industry is longline fishing targeting pelagic (open ocean) species, but the majority of the nets and ropes found in Hawaii are made of trawl or purse seine types, which suggests they are likely not of local origin.

No matter where these derelict nets hail from, they create a problem in this region that must be addressed. Prevention is the key to addressing marine debris, so raising awareness about the issue and educating fishermen is important. However, since the origin of most of these derelict nets is unknown and there are already many nets that litter Hawaiian shores, removal is also a very important part of solving the problem of derelict fishing nets. Recently, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Pacific Islands Regional staff have received an increase in reports of huge derelict fishing net conglomerates, so removal efforts are particularly important.

There are currently many groups that are working to remove this debris, including the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, which is leading net patrols and removing debris from over 200 miles of coastline on four different Hawaiian islands through a project recently funded by a MDP Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant. Surfrider Kaua’i, previously funded by the MDP, is also active in conducting net patrols in Hawaii (check out the giant net they found!). In addition, there are numerous organizations performing beach cleanups in this area, including the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources; these efforts have been an excellent example of the collaborative efforts put forth to implement the Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan. This removed debris is disposed of properly and when possible, and recycled through programs such as the Hawai’i Nets to Energy Program.

For more on derelict fishing nets in Hawaii, check out this 2014 interview with NOAA scientists.


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Marine Debris in the Pacific Islands

Picture of Mark Manuel.Meet Mark Manuel, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP’s) Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator! Mark is a Hawaii native, and received his B.S. in Marine Science and M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Before joining the MDP, Mark spent six years with the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program. He now works in Honolulu, where he oversees marine debris removal and research projects, the Hawai‘i Nets-to-Energy program, and the NOAA Observer Program at-sea marine debris encounter reports. Mark also works with the Consulate of Japan to confirm tsunami marine debris, is part of numerous emergency response networks, and communicates with the U.S. Coast Guard and state agencies to address Abandoned and Derelict Vessels. Reach out to Mark at mark.manuel@noaa.gov!

Picture of Grace Chon.Meet Grace Chon, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Pacific Islands Assistant Regional Coordinator! Grace was born and raised in Maryland and received her B.S. in Biology at the University of Maryland, College Park. After graduating and living in Venezuela for a year, she headed to Hawai’i Pacific University, where she earned her M.S. in Marine Science. As the Assistant Regional Coordinator, Grace now works in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she focuses on marine debris prevention projects, Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan activities, regional outreach efforts, and coordination in the territories. Reach out to Grace at grace.chon@noaa.gov!

 

The Pacific Islands are full of sun, sand, and unfortunately… marine debris. Like many other coastal areas, the Pacific Islands are not immune to the impacts of marine debris. Due to the Pacific Islands’ position in the Pacific Ocean and in relation to the North Pacific Gyre and ocean currents, they are often inundated with debris from both local and far-off sources. Luckily, there are many great efforts underway to address and prevent marine debris in this area. Check out a couple newly-established projects funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program:

Preventing marine debris is the ultimate solution to the problem, so Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) is working to do just that! They’ve launched a public awareness campaign focused on tobacco-free beaches in Maui, Hawaii. To get the word out, they’re creating public service announcements, developing handouts and outreach materials, and giving presentations. PWF is also hosting an art contest to promote marine debris outreach and education. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Unfortunately, there’s enough marine debris out there that we also must work on removing it. To help clean our shores, Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund is leading an effort to remove as much debris as possible from over 200 miles of coastline on four different islands in Hawaii! Engaging hundreds of volunteers, they aim to remove approximately 55 metric tons (about 120,000 pounds) of marine debris! For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

A group of people on a beach.

Volunteers at Kamilo Point participated in the International Coastal Cleanup event in Sept 2016 and helped to remove 1.71 metric tons (3,765 pounds) of marine debris from a 1km stretch of coastline on Hawai‘i Island. (Photo Credit: Dr. Drew Kapp, HWF)

There are lots of cool things going on in the Pacific Islands! Keep your eye on our blog this week for more, and check out our website for more interesting marine debris projects in the Pacific Islands and throughout the country!