NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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It’s Almost Time for This Year’s Marine Debris Art Contest!

It’s just about that time of year again: this year’s Marine Debris Art Contest is almost upon us!

Each year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program holds a ‘Keep the Sea Free of Debris’ art contest for U.S. students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The winners are featured on our yearly calendar that helps to raise awareness of the harmful impacts that marine debris has on our oceans year-round. Start getting your creative juices flowing and take a look at last year’s winners:

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Keep your eye out for the announcement of the official start of the art contest soon!


Student Conservation Association Restores and Preserves Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Coast

By: Dana Wu, Guest Blogger and Project Coordinator for the NOAA/Olympic National Park Marine Debris Removal Project

This summer, a NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-Based Removal grant enabled the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to assemble four debris removal crews at Olympic National Park. This Park works with partner agencies such as the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) to protect its unique habitats, such as its coast, which is not exempt from the effects of marine debris, despite its remote character and location.

With support from Olympic National Park, SCA, NOAA, OCNMS, Washington CoastSavers, and with guidance from the Park’s staff, crews were tasked with restoring Olympic National Park’s 73-mile long coastline. Each crew included eight to ten teenagers and two experienced field leaders, all from different parts of the country. All groups spent two weeks backpacking and working on different sections of the coast, from Shi Shi beach down to the Hoh River. The work was challenging, with some crew members just learning wilderness skills. They gathered heavy loads of litter, but were frustrated when they could not realistically remove all of the garbage they saw. However, they used this to evaluate their own behavior, with Maya, from the SCA/NatureBridge Marine Science Exploration Crew, expressing: “I am realizing I should use less plastic in my daily life.”

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In addition to removing debris, crews listened to Olympic National Park Rangers and OCNMS guest speakers, who discussed topics including marine debris and its impacts on the ecosystem, stewardship principles, and the significance of wilderness areas. Making connections to the current project, Heidi Pedersen, OCNMS Data Verifier for Marine Debris Citizen Science Programs, presented items of local concern, such as ropes, oyster spacer tubes, and plastic shotgun shells and wads. These specific items were collected separately for NOAA researchers studying possible accumulation patterns and density levels among beaches. Additionally, the SCA crews collected and bagged plastic bottles, buoys, ropes, and much more. GPS devices were used to catalogue debris that could not be readily removed, to advise future management plans.

Once the collection of debris was complete, Olympic Park visitors, Park Rangers, community volunteers, and agency partners hiked in and helped to carry out large loads of debris. So far, these collective volunteer groups have removed over 5,203 pounds of debris from the Olympic coast! These efforts embody SCA’s mission to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong environmental stewardship by engaging young people in hands-on service projects. Crew member Grant felt inspired and summarized his feelings as having “…an unmistakable sense of pride to look over [his] shoulder at a beach we had cleaned.” Many thanks to all who fight against marine debris by supporting local community involvement and youth engagement opportunities, now and in the future!

An SCA marine debris removal crew with their first load of marine debris, south of Scott's Bluff. (Photo Credit: SCA)

An SCA marine debris removal crew with their first load of marine debris, south of Scott’s Bluff. (Photo Credit: SCA)

To help support similar conservation and volunteer service projects at Olympic National Park, please visit the Washington National Park Fund page. More information about opportunities with the Student Conservation Association can be found at the SCA page.


NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program Removed 32,201 Pounds of Marine Debris from Midway Atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument!

By: James Morioka, Guest Blogger and Field Logistics Specialist with the NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), located around the mostly uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, includes reefs, atolls, and shallow and deep-sea habitats which are home to more than 7,000 marine species, many unique to Hawai`i. Centrally located within the North Pacific Gyre, the PMNM is particularly prone to marine debris accumulation that presents potentially lethal threats to numerous marine and avian species. For example, of the approximately 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses located at Midway Atoll in the far northwest of the PMNM, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system, and roughly one-third of chicks die due to plastic ingestion.

An aerial image of Midway Atoll's barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

An aerial image of Midway Atoll’s barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

To combat this issue, a team of nine specialized divers from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) conducted a 28-day operation to survey and remove marine debris at Midway Atoll, focusing on derelict fishing gear in shallow reef and shoreline environments. Debris accumulation and the concentration of microplastics (<5mm) and mesoplastics (between 5mm and 2.5cm) were also explored. The work was divided between in-water surveys and fishing gear removal from Midway’s barrier reef, and shoreline surveys and the removal of fishing gear and plastics from the beaches of all three of Midway’s islands (Sand Island, Eastern Island, and Spit Island). Overall, the team successfully removed 14,606 kilograms (32,201 pounds—that’s 6 elephants!) of derelict fishing gear and plastics.

Over the past three years, the cleanup effort at Midway Atoll has been focusing on removing derelict fishing gear and plastic items. Using a survey method modified from that used nationally by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, this study emphasizes the abundance of North Pacific fisheries-specific debris that accumulates in the Hawaiian Archipelago. By collecting, categorizing, and counting all of the removed debris, the team hopes to bring forth public awareness to what debris is accumulating, particularly everyday consumer products.

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Everyday products littered the beaches of Midway Atoll, none more prominently than plastic beverage bottles. A total of 3,486 beverage bottles were removed from the shorelines, along with 9,019 separate bottle caps. Hundreds of other household items such as toothbrushes, personal care products, plastic dishware, plastic utensils, and other plastic containers were also removed, along with 959 disposable cigarette lighters. Plastic pollution dominates the collection of marine debris along shorelines every year, and with outreach and education, the team hopes to vocalize the plastic issue and open the eyes of the everyday consumer. Fisheries-specific debris is also a big problem, such as derelict fishing nets, fishing buoys and floats, eel cone traps, and oyster spacer tubes (typically used in aquaculture to separate scallop shells during long line oyster farming and cultivation). This year, 4,366 plastic oyster spacers were removed, as well as 4,178 hard plastic buoys and 1,467 foam buoys.

The human-created problem of marine debris will continue to threaten the fragile, vital, and valuable coral reef ecosystems across the Hawaiian archipelago until a more permanent solution is found. Fortunately we can each do our part every day to help protect our environment and wildlife from the effects of marine debris. Working together– from recycling and reusing materials, to participating in beach cleanups in your area– we can make a difference!

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

This year’s operation was made possible by the NOAA PIFSC CREP, funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the in-kind services of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

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Happy National Estuaries Week!

Happy Friday, and a happy close to National Estuaries Week! National Estuaries Week, which ran from Saturday, September 19th and ends tomorrow, celebrates an extremely important aquatic environment: the estuary!

Grand Bay National Estuary Research Reserve. (Photo Credit: Gretchen L. Grammer)

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. (Photo Credit: Gretchen L. Grammer)

Estuaries are transitional aquatic habitats between the ocean and the rivers or streams that flow into it, where fresh and salt water mix. Taking nutrients and resources from both land and sea, estuaries provide important habitats for many animals, whether they live there or are just passing through. Since estuaries are an important source for a lot of ocean life and are located along the shore where many communities rely on their resources, they are crucial environments for us as well. Unfortunately, like all waterways, they are not immune to marine debris. In fact, these areas are highly prone to the accumulation of debris, as they are often lined with areas of high human populations. For these reasons, working to protect and restore estuaries is essential, through the removal of debris and working to prevent debris in the future.

Here are just a few examples of the work the NOAA Marine Debris Program supports in estuaries and the waterways that directly feed them:

Removing Debris from New York’s Jamaica Bay: The American Littoral Society piloted a marine debris removal project in New York’s Jamaica Bay estuary.

SC Sea Grant Removes Abandoned Vessels in Charleston Harbor: The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium removes derelict vessels and other marine debris from the Charleston Harbor estuary using community-based initiatives.

Reducing Marine Debris by Targeting Youth and Teenage Litterers: The Alice Ferguson Foundation educates teenage litterers in the Potomac River watershed, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay estuary.

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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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2015 International Coastal Cleanup: a Success!

Thank you to all the volunteers that showed up and cleaned up at this year’s International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday! 2015 was another success due to the many volunteers that helped collect tons of trash!

This yearly event not only removes damaging marine debris from our beaches and waterways, but raises awareness of the important issue of marine debris. The data collected at each event is also used to discover what trash items are most problematic and most likely to become marine debris. Check out some of the debris we found in photos from this year’s event:

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Thanks again to all that helped us take another step closer to keeping our seas trash free at the 30th anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup!

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International Coastal Cleanup Milestones: Celebrating 30 years of Cleaner Beaches and 10 years of MDP Involvement

Don’t forget to join the 30th International Coastal Cleanup tomorrow!

For 30 years, volunteers have been leading the charge against marine debris at the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is proud to have been involved with this important endeavor for 10 years and is looking forward to this year’s event.

Every September, thousands of volunteers participate in ICC marine debris removal efforts around the world. Last year alone, 560,000 volunteers collected more than 16 million pounds of trash! Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done. Scouring their local beaches and waterways, volunteers find the same debris items again and again. Ten years ago, the top items collected were cigars/cigarettes, food wrappers, caps/lids, plastic utensils, bottles, cans, bags and straws. Last year—you guessed it—the list was the same. They’ve found some weird things too. Bowling balls, plastic toys, and even a message in a bottle have been part of the haul in past years. These finds highlight the importance of the ICC efforts, raising awareness for this continual problem as well as removing damaging debris. Join this year’s International Coastal Cleanup at a location near you tomorrow, September 19th, to be part of the fight for healthy oceans!

Take a look back at the 10 years of International Coastal Cleanup events that the NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to have been part of:

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Don’t forget to tell us about your experience using the hashtag #NOAACleanOcean.


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