NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup – April 11, 2015

By: Leah Henry

On Saturday, April 11, the Alice Ferguson Foundation will host the 27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, the largest regional event of its kind. The cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages citizens and community leaders and generates momentum for change. Over the last 26 years, this event has removed 7 million pounds of trash from the Potomac River watershed with the help of 150,000 volunteers.

Roughly 15,000 volunteers in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia will head out to over 500 sites to cleanup our communities and waterways. We hope you are one of them! Learn more and volunteer at With your help, we can create clean land, safe water, and healthy lives with a trash-free Potomac watershed.

27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup (April 11 2015)

If you are in the region, find a cleanup near you! And if you plan to posting to social media use #PotomacCleanup and reference: @AliceFerguson (Twitter) and @AliceFergusonFoundation (Instagram).

Results from Last Year’s Potomac River Watershed Cleanup:

  • 671 sites
  • 14,766 volunteers
  • 288 tons of trash collected (576,000 pounds) including; 211,000 beverage containers,  18,600 cigarettes, 3,560 plastic bags, and 1,288 tires

Take the time. Take part. Take action.

And if you are unable to make it out, visit the Site Leader Center for more information to start a cleanup site near you, or visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Earth day cleanup on April 25!

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Santa Barbara Students Dive into Marine Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Last month, 60 elementary school students gathered at Mission Creek Lagoon in Santa Barbara, California for what will ideally be their first step in becoming ocean stewards. The field trip kicked off Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me, new partnership to prevent marine debris with the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me focuses on teaching kids about how debris moves through watersheds and into the marine environment, with particular attention to litter found around the outflow of Mission Creek Lagoon. The kids get hands-on lessons in studying the debris they find there and determining impacts. High school students enrolled in the museum’s Quasars to Sea Stars program at the museum learn about marine debris through classroom instruction and get hands on experience through participating in a beach cleanup. The students apply their knowledge to develop classroom presentations and become teachers for a day on visits to local middle school classrooms.

Here are some photos of the event:

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Plastic Debris on Georgia’s Beaches and Marshes: Recently Published Article on the Amounts and Accumulation Rates

By: Leah Henry

Numerous media and scientific reports note plastics washing up on coastal beaches and marshes and identify land-based activities as the source. And, in a recently published Marine Pollution Bulletin article, “The amount and accumulation rate of plastic debris on marshes and beaches on the Georgia coast,” by Dr. Richard Lee, a University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography Professor and Dodie Sanders, University of Georgia Marine Extension Educator, the accumulation of plastic was significant on both heavily trafficked and more remote beaches.

Georgia Coastal Project Site Map

Georgia Coastal Site Map(Credit: Anna Boyette)

For example, the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, which is often visited by thousands of day-visitors each year, had up to 81kg of plastic debris/month on its beaches while other, more remote, and much less frequented beaches also had significant plastic accumulation, indicating the importance of plastics carried from coastal and inland waters.

With funding provided by the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention through Education and Outreach grant and Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative mini-grants, as well as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Incentive Grant, collected data was recently published in the scientific journal, Marine Pollution Bulletin.

In the article, Lee and Sanders suggest that “the most useful metric is weight per unit area since it allows comparison to the standing stock or accumulation rates reported by different groups in a variety of environments, e.g. marshes, beaches, rocky shorelines. The report also found that the major type of plastics, e.g. bottles, food wrappers, plastic fragments, was highly variable at different seasons and sites. “When storms or currents bring in a number of bottles in a particular month then there can be a large increase in plastics for that month, which would help to explain much of the high monthly variability in plastic collections noted in our study.”

To read the full article:

Lee, R.F., Sanders, D.P. The amount and accumulation rate of plastic debris on marshes and beaches on the Georgia coast. Mar. Pollut. Bull. (2014)


Addressing A Rising Concern: Balloon Debris

By: Leah Henry

People intentionally release balloons into the environment to celebrate events and commemorate special occasions. Balloon debris often ends up in streams, rivers, and the ocean, where marine animals can ingest the balloons or become entangled by their attachments, causing injury and even death.

Although many people make the connection that when balloons go up they eventually come back down to Earth, others—even those who would never consider throwing a newspaper or candy wrapper on the ground—will release balloons accidentally or participate in a mass release of balloons without considering the end results.

To address this problem, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality partners with the NOAA Marine Debris Program on, A Rising Concern: Reducing Balloon Debris through Social Marketing, a Prevention through Education and Outreach project to reduce balloon litter in Virginia.

Learn more about this effort on the MDP website.

A Juvenile Sea Turtle Ingests Balloon Debris (Photo Credit: Blair Witherington FWC)

A Juvenile Sea Turtle Ingests Balloon Debris (Photo Credit: Blair Witherington FWC)

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New Report: Detecting Marine Debris At Sea

By: Marine Debris Program staff

Imagine this common scenario: you’re looking into the horizon over the ocean, and you have just spotted an object in the distance. It’s faint and you know something is there, but you can’t quite make out what it is. Chances are, unless you get closer, you may never know exactly what you saw.

This is just one of many challenges scientists and responders face when detecting marine debris in the open ocean, according to a report published today by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The report is a review of the debris detection efforts that took place in the years following the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, as well as valuable lessons for the future of marine debris detection.

Federal, state, and local partners focused on finding JTMD through several detection methods, including observations from aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, vessels, shoreline observers, and satellites. NOAA paired detection with modeling in order to focus detection resources on areas where the debris was most likely to be located, given the large area of ocean where the debris dispersed.

A boat from Japan observed by mariners in the North Pacific is towed to land. Credit: P. Grillo.

A boat from Japan observed by mariners in the North Pacific is towed to land. Credit: P. Grillo.

While there was significant involvement and engagement from the public and agencies at the federal, state and local level in finding JTMD, many of the lessons-learned illustrated the significant challenges and limitations that come into play when searching for diverse objects in a very large area of the ocean. The report explores each detection method used during the response, as well as the limitations of each method and possible actions to overcome the limitations.

Because of the extensive efforts and renewed interest in at-sea detection during the response, the marine debris community learned more about marine debris’ behavior and movement and has advanced the state of knowledge on detection of debris at-sea.

Read the full report.

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Marine Debris Prevention Kicks Off in Puerto Rico

By: Jason Rolfe

On December 6, 80 volunteers gathered to help Protectores de Cuencas clean up five beaches near Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico. This event kicked off a series of cleanups within the NOAA Marine Debris Program-funded “Think Before You Drop It” project,  a research-based social marketing campaign that will reduce litter on beaches in Guánica/Río Loco Watershed, Puerto Rico.

I was fortunate enough to work with community members, stakeholders, and beachgoers to remove debris from the beaches while the “Think Before You Drop It” research team gathered debris information, made site observations, and taught the volunteers, children and adults alike, about ways that they can protect the valuable natural resources right in their backyard from the impacts of marine debris.

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And this is just the beginning. Over the course of this two-year project, the project team will develop techniques to reduce marine debris throughout the Guánica watershed.  Through a series of workshops, children and young adults will develop messages for a behavior change campaign, based on the research from the cleanups. They will present these marine debris reduction messages to their peers and parents at outreach events.

As the MDP and Protectores de Cuencas continue this partnership, we’ll share project updates and photos from the volunteers as they learn about the ocean and how to prevent marine debris.

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When It Rains, It Pours (Debris)

By: Sherry Lippiatt

Californians have seen huge amounts of rain these past two weeks, thanks to a series of storms moving through the region. We desperately need the rain here, but not the marine debris that comes with it. Major rainstorms inevitably lead to runoff, which can mobilize and turn upstream litter into marine debris downstream.

Sights such as this are common after major winter storms in California:

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. Photo credit: Heal the Bay

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. Photo credit: Heal the Bay

So what can we do? For starters, the easiest thing is to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle to cut off debris at the source. If wet or windy weather is in the forecast, try to schedule a neighborhood cleanup before the storm, and consider not leaving your full garbage, recycling, or compost bins on the street until the weather has passed.

The upside is that some local efforts to intercept and filter out solid debris in runoff have been effective. As you might have read in a previous blog, a recent NOAA study showed that reducing marine debris on Southern California beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents. Preventing litter from becoming marine debris is good news for our beaches and our wallets!


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