NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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West Coast Region: Marine Debris Removal

A derelict net is pulled out of the Puget Sound. Credt: Northwest Straits Initiative

By: Asma Mahdi

Marine debris removal efforts are crucial to help protect habitat, prevent entanglements and ghostfishing of marine life, and improve navigation safety.

For more than a decade, the Northwest Straits Initiative, supported by NOAA, state agencies, and many others, has removed lost and abandoned fishing nets from the inland ocean waters of Puget Sound. More than 5,000 derelict nets have been removed from the Sound’s waters to date. To learn more about this project, visit our site.

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Is Beach Litter Rerouting Your Summer Vacation?

By: Leah Henry

MD-econ_graphic_1 (1)

Debris on beaches is unsightly! And like the residents in the NOAA Marine Debris Program-funded economics study in Orange County, California, you too might be deterred by beaches with high levels of marine debris and that concern may influence which beaches you visit. In this study, led by Industrial Economics Inc., we discover how marine debris influences decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost.

Southern California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away. By reducing marine debris by 25 percent at beaches in and near California’s Orange County could save residents roughly $32 million over three summer months by decreasing travel distances to enjoy the beach. Reducing marine debris on beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents and given the enormous popularity of beach recreation throughout the United States, the magnitude of recreational economic losses associated with marine debris has the potential to be substantial.

For more information and to download the study, please visit our website. 

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Cigarette Butts and Cigar Tips: Flicked but not Forgotten

By: Leah Henry

For most people, dropping candy or food wrappers on the ground feels wrong and although we have made great strides in litter control and behavior change, littering of cigarette butts and plastic cigar tips continues to be commonplace. Look around the next time you’re walking down any street and you will find them.

According to data collected by the Alliance for the Great Lakes through Adopt-a-Beach (AAB) cleanups in 2013, Northeast Ohio reported the most plastic cigar tips found during cleanups in the Great Lakes region. Plastic cigar tips accounted for 37% of the total trash collected.

AAB found that smoking-related litter, including cigarette butts, butane lighters, cigars tips, and tobacco packaging, accounted for 58% of all marine debris items collected on South Carolina beaches in 2013; cigarette butts alone accounted for 55% of all items. That translated to a total of 30,987 cigarette butts (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control – Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management).

In a study conducted by Keep America Beautiful (Schultz and Stein 2009) their results found that 37.7% of the litter found on U.S. roadways was tobacco products and that the overall littering rate nationally is 65% for cigarette butts. During the NOAA Marine Debris Program Great Lakes Educator Workshop in Ohio, a handful of educators managed to collect 58 cigar tips and 27 cigarettes/filters in two hours, on a short stretch of beach.

Where do they all go? Runoff flows into rivers and streams, bringing cigarette butts discarded on land into the marine environment, where they can impact marine organisms and habitats.

Cigarette butts are made of plastic (cellulose acetate to be exact), not cotton, as is sometimes thought. And like other forms of plastic, they do not biodegrade, and can persist in the environment for a long time.  Additionally, consumption of cigarette butts by unsuspecting marine organisms can lead to death through choking or starvation.  They also contain toxins that can leech into the environment.  Some studies have shown that these toxins can have harmful effects on aquatic organisms, and yet, cigarette butts continue to be littered in huge quantities.

What can you do? Organize cleanups in your local community and log your findings with the Marine Debris Tracker App! Engage your friends, family, and community in spreading awareness about litter. And if you smoke, place it in a proper receptacle (Terracycle: Cigarette Waste Brigade).

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DIY Tank Top-to-Tote for Summer Break

What is marine debris?  Well, you may not immediately think of them, but clothes and textiles can become marine debris if we don’t dispose of them properly or reuse them in some way. Here is an easy idea for re-purposing your clothes.

Take an old tank top, turn it inside-out, sew the bottom shut and you have a handy tote or beach bag. Now find your needle and thread to join us in preventing marine debris through arts & crafts!


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Microplastics Found in Chesapeake Bay Surface Water Samples

By: Leah Henry

In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Oxford Labthe NOAA Marine Debris Program collected surface water samples from four tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, using the techniques described in the document, “Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment: Recommendations for Monitoring Debris Trends in the Marine Environment,” and found microplastics in 59 of 60 samples.

Though the impacts of these tiny plastic particles (smaller than 5.0 mm in size) on wildlife and the environment is unknown, many ongoing studies are hoping to soon answer those important questions.

University of Maryland Professor Dr. Lance Yonkos was not surprised by what they found in the bay. As the lead author of this study, Yonkos’ take home message is one of prevention, “If we want to reduce microplastics in the oceans we need to limit their release at the source.” Find out more from the Photo Essay: Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay.

All Photos by Will Parson, courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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New Laboratory Methods: How to Analyze Microplastics in the Marine Environment

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program Staff

noaa_microplastics_methods_manual (1)Plastics are often the main type of debris found in oceans, rivers, lakes as well as on surrounding riverbanks and shorelines and those plastics however big or small can enter the environment from a multitude of sources. These plastics can eventually degrade into smaller and smaller pieces and with that in mind the NOAA Marine Debris Program releases the Laboratory Methods for the Analysis of Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Recommendations for quantifying synthetic particles in waters and sediments.

This methods manual outlines step-by-step instructions on how to quantify microplastics in marine environmental samples, and how to streamline terminology and approaches. Depending on each study’s aim and the environmental collection techniques, these methods can be used to calculate concentrations of microplastics.

Please follow this link to download a copy of the Microplastics Methods Manual:


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Mid-Atlantic Region: Marine Debris Prevention

By: Leah Henry

Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) helps youth and teenagers, a typically high-risk littering audience, understand the marine debris problem and their impact on it, so they are less likely to litter and more inclined to dispose of trash properly. AFF educates students and empowers them to become environmental stewards and urges everyone to ‘Take control. Take care of your trash’. To find out more about this project visit our website.

Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program Department of Environmental Quality addresses a specific entanglement and ingestion issue by investigating balloon debris and the underlying motivations for balloon releases. By studying the behavior behind balloon releases and designing a social marketing campaign to encourage more environmentally sensitive alternatives, they hope to prevent potential harm from balloon-debris to wildlife and the environment. To learn more about this project visit our website.


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