NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan Released

Working closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coastal Management Program and numerous other Florida marine debris stakeholders, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to have been involved in the recent creation of the Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan. This Plan, which is a compilation of recommended strategies and actions toward reducing the impacts and amount of marine debris in Florida, is the result of multiple years of collaboration between stakeholders including federal and state agencies, local governments, non-governmental organizations, universities, and industry. Moving into the future, the Plan will act as a guide to measure progress toward addressing the marine debris problem in Florida.

We are happy to announce that the Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan is now available on our website and on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website.

Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan

Check out the Florida Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan!


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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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ADVs and the Gulf of Mexico

Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a type of large marine debris that is a problem throughout the country. ADVs can be aesthetically unappealing, but can also create real problems by damaging important habitat, creating hazards to navigation and recreation, leaking pollutants into the environment, and impacting fisheries resources. Vessels can become derelict in a variety of ways, such as being abandoned by their owner after acquiring damage or sunk during a severe storm. Unfortunately, this type of debris can be extremely difficult and costly to remove, often making it difficult to address.

Derelict vessels in Galveston Bay, Texas.

Derelict vessels in Galveston Bay, Texas. (Photo Credit: Galveston Bay Foundation)

ADVs are particularly a problem in the Gulf of Mexico, especially due to the many severe storms in this region. ADVs and dilapidated docks remain along numerous rivers and tributaries that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these debris items are a direct result of storms including Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Katrina and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, and Isaac in 2012. Unfortunately, this effect of these storms is not fully understood by many and it is an all too common practice in this region for boat owners to anchor their vessels in river systems prior to hurricane landfalls. Those boats can then lose their moorings and drift into marshes and stream banks from the strong winds, currents, and flooding that accompany these storms.

To address this problem in the Gulf region, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) has funded projects specifically to remove ADVs, including efforts in Dog River and Bayou la Batre, Alabama. Currently, the MDP is funding a project in Galveston Bay, Texas to remove large debris items such as ADVs. Unfortunately, there are still many ADVs that the MDP is not able to address due to costs and removal difficulties. For this reason, the MDP created the ADV InfoHub, which details how to address ADVs and provides avenues for removal in each coastal state. The ADV InfoHub also contains case studies and law reviews available for all Gulf States. In addition, the MDP has been involved in the creation of incident waterway response guides in both Florida and Alabama. These guides are meant to improve preparedness for response to and recovery from severe marine debris events by outlining existing responsibilities and procedures in one document for easy reference.

For more on ADVs, check out the ADV InfoHub on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website and keep your eye on our Gulf of Mexico regional page for more on marine debris efforts in the Gulf region.


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Tackling Marine Debris in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo of Caitlin Wessel.Meet Caitlin Wessel, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator! Caitlin has a broad background in both education and research, with a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and a M.S. from Coastal Carolina University in Coastal, Marine, and Wetland Studies. In her downtime, Caitlin can be found working towards her PhD in Marine Science from the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, scuba diving, kayaking, or hiking with her puppies. For questions about the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Gulf of Mexico efforts, reach out to Caitlin at caitlin.wessel@noaa.gov!

Marine debris is an issue throughout the country and unfortunately, the Gulf of Mexico is no different. To address this problem, we first must work to prevent trash from becoming marine debris and we do this through education and outreach. Unfortunately, there’s enough debris out there that we must also work to remove it. Check out some of the efforts currently underway to prevent and remove debris in the Gulf:

Sea Turtle, Inc. is working to prevent marine debris by developing bilingual signage on South Padre Island, Texas. They’re also developing a display and educational programs for students to learn about marine debris, its impacts on wildlife (like sea turtles), and the ways we can help prevent it. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Graphic of a sea turtle taking a bite of a bottle and a photo of a bottle with turtle bites taken out.

This project is focusing on educating the Lower Laguna Madre community about the impacts of debris on marine life, such as the ingestion of debris. In the photo on the right, you can clearly see sea turtle bites taken out of a plastic bottle. (Photo Credit: NOAA (left) and Sea Turtle, Inc. (right))

Ship Island Excursions is also working to prevent marine debris in the Gulf by educating students and community members in Southern Mississippi. As part of this project, they are providing marine debris education to coastal Mississippi students and providing outreach to passengers aboard the Ship Island Ferry through an interactive kiosk, signage, and marine educators and student ambassadors. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

A group of students on a pier.

Ship Island Excursions is educating students, teachers, and community members in coastal Mississippi. (Photo Credit: Ship Island Excursions)

To address the debris that’s already in our waters and on our shores, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is monitoring and removing derelict crab traps in Southern Alabama. They are leading three volunteer removal programs to remove and dispose of derelict crab traps, identifying and counting the animals that have been inadvertently caught by the traps, and monitoring the area to assess the removal efforts. For more information on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Also working to remove marine debris from the Gulf of Mexico is the Galveston Bay Foundation. They are working to improve habitat and access to Galveston Bay by removing large debris items such as abandoned and derelict vessels from Chocolate Bayou, Texas. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Derelict vessels partially submerged in water.

The Galveston Bay Foundation is working to remove large debris items from Galveston Bay, Texas. (Photo Credit: Galveston Bay Foundation)

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


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New Standards-Based Curriculum Available!

We are excited to announce the release of Nature’s Academy’s Standards-Based Curriculum, which was created as part of their Science Literacy Project as part of an effort supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Students cleaning up marine debris from a shoreline.

Students learn from Nature’s Academy’s curriculum and participate in a hands-on educational program as part of a project supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. (Photo Credit: Nature’s Academy)

This curriculum incorporates lessons on marine debris into a broader investigation that helps students make the connection between the various parts of an aquatic ecosystem, as well as understand how people can impact such environments. It is designed to be used by fifth-grade teachers that are participating in the Nature’s Academy hands-on educational program in Florida. It outlines the specific standards that are covered by the included lessons, provides background information meant to best prepare students and teachers for participation in the field trip activities, and includes comprehensive lesson plans that utilize the Nature’s Academy Citizen Science Database.

Although this curriculum is aimed at students and teachers participating in the field trip program, the materials provided may prove to be a useful resource for many educators that are working to prevent marine debris through education and outreach.

Check out the curriculum on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.

Cover of the new Standards-Based curriculum from Nature’s Academy.

Check out the new Standards-Based curriculum from Nature’s Academy! (Credit: Nature’s Academy)


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Does Marine Debris Impact Sea Turtle Nesting?

By: Kimberly Albins, Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Cape San Blas, a remote area in Northwest Florida that sits about 45 miles east of Panama City, is home to prime sea turtle nesting habitat. Unfortunately, erosion in this area began to cause a large amount of marine debris to litter its shores. Old concrete buildings, fencing material, pilings, and many other forms of debris could be found scattered within sea turtle nesting areas.

Metal fence on a beach.

Fencing material was found littering prime sea turtle nesting habitat on the shores of Cape San Blas. (Photo Credit: Dr. Ikuko Fujisaki)

In 2012, the University of Florida received funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant to remove these large debris items and assess the impact on sea turtles. To assess the impact of removing debris, observations were made on an experimental section of the beach where large debris had been removed. Recently, the project leads, Drs. Ikuko Fujisaki and Meg Lamont, published their findings from this assessment in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology (check out the abstract here). As presented in their paper, they found that removing debris increased sea turtle nests by 200%! While many have assumed that debris on a beach would inhibit the ability of a sea turtle to find the appropriate place to nest, this research allows us to say “here is the proof!”

A loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Northwest Florida.

A loggerhead sea turtle can be seen nesting in Northwest Florida. (Photo Credit: Margaret Lamont)

As this study corroborates, sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to marine debris. They can ingest plastics, become entangled in debris such as derelict fishing gear, and we now know that their important nesting habitats are also impacted. It is unfortunately all too common for sea turtles to ingest plastic debris, and by working to remove debris and prevent more from occurring, we hope to change that.

Diamond-shaped holes in a plastic bag.

A photo by blog author Kim Albins shows a plastic bag found on a Texas beach. The diamond-shaped holes are turtle bites and are unfortunately an excellent example of plastic ingestion by sea turtles, a (sadly) very commonly-observed occurrence. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Like all of our Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant projects, removal of debris was just one aspect of this effort, which also worked to engage and educate citizens. Through the excellent work of the project leads along with grad students, interns, and volunteers that helped remove debris and educate citizens on the impact of marine debris on “Florida’s Forgotten Coastline,” this project:

  • removed 135.7 tons of large debris,
  • cleaned 95.9 km of beach area,
  • engaged 379 volunteers (donating 1,668 hours of time) in marine debris cleanups, and
  • reached 643 people through outreach events and classroom activities.

Keeping our beaches clean of debris will help sea turtles to thrive! The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports lots of projects that work to clean our shores, prevent more debris through education, and learn more about the marine debris issue. Do your part by picking up after yourself (every day!), following the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), and by participating in beach cleanup events!

For more on this project, check out the Marine Debris Clearinghouse. For more on what’s happening with marine debris in this region, visit the Gulf of Mexico regional page on our website.


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Florida Incident Waterway Debris Response: A New Comprehensive Guide for the State

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is proud to announce the release of the new Incident Waterway Debris Response document for Florida. 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 waterway debris incidents in Florida.

Check out the Florida Response Guide on our website!

Cover of the "Florida Incident Waterway Debris Response Guide" document.