NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Consumer Debris and the Great Lakes

While marine debris is perhaps more commonly thought of as an oceanic problem, the Great Lakes region is an area that is also affected by debris, particularly consumer product items and other such land-based litter. In 2015 alone, the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach Program removed 92,616 pounds of debris from Great Lakes habitats. These debris items come from a multitude of sources including overflowing trash cans and other improper waste management, as well as both accidental and intentional littering. Being far from the ocean, many people don’t think about how their trash can end up in our waterways. Weather such as winds and rains can help transport debris into streams and rivers, eventually traveling into the Great Lakes. Once in our environment, these debris items can cause a range of issues, including ingestion by and entanglement of wildlife, hazards for fishermen and boaters, and even simply creating an eyesore on once-beautiful shorelines.

Luckily, people are taking notice of this problem and are working to solve it. In 2014, regional stakeholders developed the Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan to serve as a road map for taking strategic action and making progress toward the goal of the Great Lakes free from the impacts of marine debris. An annual review of the plan keeps this progress on track and ensures any new issues are addressed. Other efforts in the region include work by many marine debris stakeholders, as well as through projects funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. One such effort, led by the City of Cleveland, is working to prevent consumer product marine debris by developing a social marketing campaign to target three primary consumer items of concern in Cleveland—plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and cigar tips.

You can help to prevent consumer product marine debris in the Great Lakes and in your region by making sure to dispose of your trash properly. Follow the 3R’s and reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever possible. Join a cleanup to help remove the debris that’s already out there and spread the word to others! Together we can help to solve this very preventable problem.

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Addressing Marine Debris in the Great Lakes

Sarah Lowe.Meet Sarah Lowe, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Great Lakes Regional Coordinator! After earning her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Sarah worked as a research technician on projects involving important Great Lakes issues such as agricultural influences on community diversity, invasive species community interactions, and industrial and contaminant impacts to fisheries. In 2009, Sarah began working with the NOAA Marine Debris Program through the Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship, focusing on developing shoreline marine debris monitoring protocols. In 2010, Sarah moved into her current position as the Great Lakes Regional Coordinator, where she has worked to raise awareness about marine debris in the region and to lead the development of a Great Lakes Marine Debris Action Plan. Reach out to Sarah at!

The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Great Lakes region is a large one, encompassing all Great Lakes states— from New York to Minnesota. This region has unique beauty with its complex system of habitats, ranging from the Lakes themselves to their associated wetlands, rivers, and tributaries.  Unfortunately, this landscape is marred by the presence of marine debris. Like many places throughout the country, marine debris is a big problem in the Great Lakes region, impacting the environment and the animals that live there, as well as the Great Lakes’ robust recreational fishing and boating economy. Luckily, there are many efforts currently underway to tackle marine debris in this area. Check out some of the newly-established projects funded by the Marine Debris Program:

To address some of the derelict fishing gear that impacts the Great Lakes’ environment as well as the fishing and boating communities, the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant is working to remove derelict fishing nets (or “ghost nets”) in Lake Superior. These nets can create safety risks and so this project is working to develop a crowd-sourced ghost net removal program to reduce this threat. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

While removing debris is unfortunately necessary, the ultimate solution to the problem is to prevent debris items from becoming marine debris in the first place. The School District of the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, is working to do just that by leading education and outreach efforts that reach students, teachers, and the community of Erie, PA. Through these efforts, they’re training teachers and educating students about marine debris, what type of trash is generated in their schools and neighborhoods, and helping students to develop strategies for reducing the amount of trash produced. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

There are lots of cool things happening in the Great Lakes and considering this week marks 2017’s Great Lakes Day, we’re going to celebrate this region by highlighting some of it! Keep your eye on our blog this week for more, and check out our website for more interesting marine debris projects in the Great Lakes and throughout the country!


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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.

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Abandoned Vessels in the Rouge River: Removing Debris in the Great Lakes

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 Great Lakes region.

Fordson Island, in the Lower Rouge River, is located near Detroit, Michigan, and was the site of some pretty neat removal efforts back in 2011. The area actually has some cool history which you can read more about here. The shore of Fordson Island, which hosts some of the last remaining undeveloped habitat in a very industrialized area, was unfortunately the site of a lot of marine debris, most notably abandoned and derelict vessels.

A river and shore with abandoned and derelict vessels, and then the same site with no derelict vessels.

The site on Fordson Island prior to and after marine debris removal. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

To address this issue, the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority (DWCPA) was awarded a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant as well as funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. With help from Friends of the Rouge, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), and AKT Peerless Environmental & Energy Services, the DWCPA then set out to remove these abandoned vessels from the Rouge River.

This project culminated with 21 boats removed from the channel and near-shore area of Fordson Island. These boats and the additional surface debris that was collected totaled approximately 122 tons of debris removed from this area. In response, the local community came together to continue the effort by scheduling five volunteer events and going on to remove over 365 cubic yards of debris from the island.

A derelict vessel is removed with an excavator on Fordson Island. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

A derelict vessel is removed from the Rouge River. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

For more information on this project, check out this old blog post or the project profile on our website.

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Reducing Marine Debris in the Great Lakes

This week marks 2016’s Great Lakes Day and to celebrate the events, we’re taking a closer look at some of the efforts against marine debris in the Great Lakes region. The newest addition to the fight against marine debris in this region is an exciting prevention effort led by the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, funded by a NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention through Education and Outreach grant.

Teaming up with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Keep America Beautiful, the City of Cleveland is working with a community-based social marketing expert to research why people continue to use plastic consumer products such as single-use plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags, and plastic cigar tips. These three items make up 50% of all of the litter collected on Northeast Ohio beaches, so it is important to understand what may be blocking behavior change regarding their use.

Once research on the subject has been completed, a pilot social marketing campaign to reach target audiences in the area will be developed and implemented. This campaign will use communication methods such as outreach at events like the Great Lake Erie Boat Float.

The goal of this project is to reduce littering and the use of plastics by Cleveland residents, as well as to increase the proper disposal of plastic items. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce marine debris via lasting behavior change in the Cleveland area.

Are you up for the challenge? What changes could you make in your life to reduce marine debris?

For more information on this project, check out the project profile on our website or the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.

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Communicating for a Clean Future: Ohio Congressional District 9 Marine Debris Challenge

By: Sarah Lowe, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

We are excited to announce a new contest for high school students in Ohio’s Ninth Congressional District!

The NOAA Marine Debris Program, in partnership with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Sea Grant, and The Ohio State University Stone Laboratory, launched the first annual Marine Debris Challenge this week. This contest encourages students in grades 9-12 in Ohio’s Ninth Congressional District to develop first-hand experience with marine debris and use that experience to raise awareness in the community through public service announcements.

“Marine debris is a real and growing challenge here in Northern Ohio,” said Rep. Kaptur. “Public education is the first and most important step to address this emerging threat, and our students can be a great resource in this effort. That is why we created this brand new competition. Our hope is that it will motivate high school students across Northern Ohio to become teachers and leaders themselves, sharing knowledge, experience, and understanding in ways that help their communities become more responsible stewards of the precious freshwater resources and ecosystems we all depend on for our lives and livelihoods.”

Nancy Wallace, NOAA Marine Debris Program Director, added, “The Great Lakes are an important part of our environment and not immune to the effects of marine debris. We are looking forward to working with our partners on this PSA contest to inspire young adults in Ohio to create their own prevention messaging and to be part of the global solution to marine debris.”

Dr. Kristin Stanford, Education and Outreach Manager at OSU Stone Laboratory, said, “The topic of marine debris has been a major component in the outreach and education efforts for Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab this past year and we are very excited to be able to help co-sponsor this contest raising awareness on this important Lake Erie issue.”

Prizes for the winning teams include a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park, a field trip to Stone Laboratory, and more! So encourage those young adults to submit their PSAs by March 1, 2016!

To learn more about the contest, visit the project’s webpage here.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program would like to thank its fellow contributors, including Ohio Sea Grant, The Ohio State University F.T. Stone Laboratory, Ohio Congressional District 9, Cedar Point Amusement Park, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

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Marine Debris: In Your Region

By: Leah Henry

When you think of marine debris or ocean litter, is the first thing that comes to mind post-consumer waste,  lost fishing gear, or maybe abandoned and derelict vessels? The NOAA Marine Debris Program understands that issues and interest surrounding marine debris varies from region to region.

To learn more about current region and state specific marine debris projects and activities, click on In Your Region within our recently updated NOAA Marine Debris Program website ( and pick a region on the interactive map.