NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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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.

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Marine Debris Affects a Species Whether It Is Endangered or Not

By: Dianna Parker

Monk seal resting on a derelict net.

Marine debris throughout the ocean puts endangered species like this Hawaiian monk seal at risk.
(Photo: NOAA)

Marine debris impacts hundreds of species around the globe, including endangered species such as the Hawaiian monk seal. Derelict and abandoned fishing gear is a major culprit behind entanglements, and our colleagues in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reminded us all yesterday that even though some of these animals live in marine sanctuary safe havens, they are still not free from marine debris: 

“Although the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are one of the most remote places in the United States, the marine ecosystem there is still under pressure from human impacts. Papahānuamokuākea Marine National Monument provides one of the last remaining refuges for monk seals, whose population has shrunk to only 1,100 animals.”

With Endangered Species Day approaching this Friday, we’ll take a look at some other endangered or threatened species throughout the week – including turtles and whales – and how they’re impacted by marine debris. But today, let’s celebrate the Hawaiian monk seal (and the NOAA folks who removed the 11.5-ton derelict net on which this seal is taking its nap).


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Future Ocean Stewards Take the Trash Out

By: Grace Chon

As the new Marine Debris Pacific Islands Regional Assistant Coordinator, I bring the world of marine debris into classrooms to create a new awareness of how our lifestyles impact the ocean. This month, my journey started with first through fifth graders at the American Renaissance Academy and first graders at Trinity Christian School on Oahu, Hawai‘i.

The first question I asked each class was “What comes to mind when you think of the ocean?” and many students responded saying fish, honu (turtles), sharks, surfing, and fun! There is no doubt children in Hawai‘i like the ocean. I then asked,“How have humans impacted or affected the ocean?” and these children knew trash and nets were in the ocean and harming our wildlife. The missing link for these students is usually realizing the source of the trash – us.

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A mauka to makai (mountains to sea) connection is a common theme in Hawai‘i when teaching about our environment, and after hearing the presentation, students were able to see how their trash can end up in the ocean. They learned their everyday choices make a difference.

After the presentation, the students did several hands-on activities to help them better understand the problems marine debris creates. They pretended to be seals entangled in fishing nets and had to find a way to get free; used sieves to sift out microplastics from sand; explored the collection of marine debris we find on removal missions in Hawai‘i; and made marine debris magnets to remind them of how the daily choices they make impact our ocean.

Educating our next generation of ocean stewards is part of Hawaii’s Marine Debris Action Plan, and it’s an important piece to solving one of the biggest threats our oceans are facing today.

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Japanese Village Sign Found in Hawaii Returns Home

By: Dianna Parker

A large weathered sign that was once part of a Japanese village is going home today, thanks to collaboration between the State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Japanese officials. Hawaiian Airlines will fly the sign from Honolulu to Sendai Airport, where a delegation from Tanohata village will greet it.

The sign, which was ripped from Tanohata in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, washed up on Kahuku Beach in Oahu, Hawaii last September. After learning that the sign’s broken lettering says “Shimanokoshi village housing,” NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources were able to work with the Japanese consulate in Hawaii to determine its origin.

When they learned the sign had been found, representatives from Tanohata requested that the irreplaceable memento be returned. DLNR approached Hawaiian Airlines for assistance, and they volunteered to ship the sign back on a routine flight at no cost.

“This effort is a great example of collaboration between government agencies and industry, working together toward the spirit of Aloha and goodwill,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program. “We hope to continue strengthening these partnerships to assist the Japanese people as they recover.”

According to Japan Counsel General Toyoei Shigeeda, based in Honolulu, the village will use it as an exhibit “for future generations to learn about and understand the tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011.” He said, “We’re all excited that now, more than three years after the tsunami, this sign can be returned as a reminder and symbol of what was lost.”

NOAA has received more than 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its email address, but only about 45 have been definitively traced back to the tsunami. Twenty of those items were found in Hawaii.


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Robotics Team Combats Marine Debris Using…Robots!

By: Andrea Kealoha

Innovative solutions are borne through inspiration, teamwork, and an attitude that combines friendly competition with mutual gain. These core values were at play last fall when 15 fun-loving and highly motivated fourth and fifth graders from Kea’au Elementary School on the Big Island won a 3rd place prize for their marine debris solution in a FIRST®LEGO® League (FLL) competition.

The students, part of the elementary school’s LunaTechs robotics team, participated in the 2013 NATURE’S FURY Challenge, where over 200,000 children from over 70 countries were challenged to develop an innovative solution that helps communities prepare, stay safe, or rebuild after a natural disaster.

The team chose to focus on marine debris generated from tsunamis, a natural disaster that Hawaii has experienced in the past. As part of their initial research, the LunaTechs visited the Pacific Tsunami Center in Hilo and the Department of Civil Defense. They also participated in beach cleanups, collecting debris from Waiolena and Waiʻuli Beach Parks. Through these events, the LunaTechs became particularly interested in the threats associated with marine debris carrying invasive species.

The LunaTechs’ goal was to find a creative way to track Japan tsunami marine debris to monitor possible invasive species that could harm the natural habitat in Hawaii.

The first step in their project was to gain an understanding of current detection efforts (e.g. satellite tracking, modeling maps, and at-sea detection) and limitations associated with them (e.g. dispersal of debris makes tracking by satellite harder, debris may be in remote places).

The LunaTechs brainstormed and developed an idea to build an intricate framework of interactive robots, called LunaBots, which communicate with each other from a satellite in space, to flying robots in the atmosphere, to floating robots in the surface ocean, and finally, to aquatic robots submerged within the depths of the ocean. Consistent, collaborative communication between these robots would improve monitoring efforts on debris that poses a potential threat to the environment, humans, and navigation.

In addition, the LunaTechs ran a booth at their community’s first Emergency Preparation Fair. Their booth had informational posters and handouts about invasive species and marine debris, along with an interactive quiz game. The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, Kyle Koyanagi, assisted the LunaTechs with expertise on marine debris problems and solutions in Hawaii.

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The Marine Debris Program congratulates the LunaTechs for finishing 3rd place in the Robot Performance component, receiving the FLL Core Values Award, and for showing dedication to their community by working toward finding innovative solutions to combat marine debris! Congratulations LunaTechs!

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Learning about ʻōpala!

By: Andrea Kealoha

Yesterday, staff from the NOAA Marine Debris Program  collaborated with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Polynesian Voyaging Society to teach 2nd and 3rd grade Hawaiian immersion students about the negative impacts of marine debris. The students learned about the Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world, and dissected albatross boluses filled with fishing line and plastics.

It was inspiring to learn that even at such a young age, these children are already participating in beach clean-ups! While we taught the students about marine debris, they taught us the Hawaiian word for trash – ʻōpala!


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