NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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Balloons and the Mid-Atlantic

Balloons are a type of marine debris that many people don’t think about. Often used for celebrations or to commemorate special events, balloons are frequently intentionally or accidentally released into the environment. Unfortunately, once they go up, they must also come down; balloons that are released into the air don’t just go away, they either get snagged on something such as tree branches or electrical wires, deflate and make their way back down, or rise until they pop and fall back to Earth where they can create a lot of problems. Balloon debris can be ingested by animals, many of which easily mistake it for real food, and can entangle wildlife, especially balloons with attached ribbons. Balloon debris can even have an economic impact on communities, contributing to dirty beaches which drive away tourists, or causing power outages from mylar balloons covered in metallic paint and their ribbons tangling in power lines.

Balloon debris is a national issue and unfortunately, the Mid-Atlantic is not immune. Over a period of five years (2010-2014), 4,916 pieces of balloon litter were found in Virginia by volunteers participating in the International Coastal Cleanup, with over 3,000 of those pieces found on ocean beaches. In 2014, 236 volunteers found over 900 balloons in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia in a three-hour period. Recent surveys of remote islands on Virginia’s Eastern Shore documented up to 40 balloons per mile of beach. These statistics suggest that this Mid-Atlantic area is appropriate to research the balloon debris issue and to create an education and outreach program that could then be used in other states. So the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, with funding support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, is doing just that. They’re exploring the issue of intentionally-released balloons and targeting that behavior through a social marketing campaign.

Latex balloon on the ground.

With efforts such as those by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, we hope that we will start to see less balloon debris in our environment. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

So what can you do to help reduce balloon debris in the Mid-Atlantic and throughout the country? Consider using alternate decorations at your next celebration such as paper streamers or fabric flags. Rather than giving your child a helium balloon on a string, fill it with air and attach it to a stick—they still get the feeling of it floating above their heads without the risk of losing it into the environment. Most importantly, don’t intentionally release balloons into the air. With increased awareness about the issue, we can all work to reduce this very preventable form of marine debris in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.

A person holding balloon debris that says "Happy Birthday!"

Working together, let’s reduce this very preventable form of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA)


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Addressing Marine Debris in the Mid-Atlantic

Jason Rolfe.Meet Jason Rolfe, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP’s) Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator! After earning his B.S. in Environmental Sciences from Frostburg State University, Jason began work at NOAA, where he has worked as a cartographer, an environmental scientist, and a project manager for the past 21 years. Jason joined the MDP in 2011 as the Acting Deputy Director, working on operational tasks as well as focusing on emergency response, planning for the marine debris that washed up on West Coast states after the 2011 Japan tsunami. Since then, he’s also led the MDP’s efforts to address debris in East Coast states resulting from Hurricane Sandy and in 2013, assumed his current position with the Program. Reach out to Jason at jason.rolfe@noaa.gov!

 

The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Mid-Atlantic region, encompassing coastal states from New Jersey to Virginia, is no stranger to the impacts of marine debris. Like many coastal areas around the country, this region is often inundated with debris ranging from derelict fishing gear to consumer debris. Luckily, there are several awesome efforts currently underway to address marine debris in the Mid-Atlantic. Check out some newly-established projects funded by the MDP:

In order to address debris at the root of the problem, we must focus on preventing it at its source. Trash Free Maryland is working to prevent the creation of debris in Baltimore, Maryland through a multi-year social marketing campaign. They’re focusing on land-based litter and starting with a pilot campaign utilizing trusted community mentors before expanding their messaging to reach a broader Baltimore audience. The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of litter in Baltimore by encouraging the feeling of responsibility regarding litter and instilling pride in the community to lead to cleaner neighborhoods and waterways. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Trash on a sidewalk.

Like many places, land-based litter is a problem in Baltimore and so Trash Free Maryland is working to reduce this debris. (Photo Credit: Trash Free Maryland)

Although prevention is the ultimate solution, removal of debris is unfortunately necessary. To address some of the debris that’s already out there, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Delaware Coastal Program is working with local crabbers to locate and remove over 1,000 derelict crab pots from the Delaware portion of the Delaware Bay. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Someone taking a derelict crab pot out of the water.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Delaware Coastal Program is working to remove derelict crab pots from the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Running in tandem with the Delaware Coastal Program’s project, the New Jersey Audubon is leading a similar project in the New Jersey waters of the Delaware Bay. Working with Northstar Marine and Stockton University, they are striving to locate and remove over 2,000 derelict crab pots from three critical areas of coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay. In addition, they’re training local commercial crabbers to use low-cost sonar devices to locate lost pots in order to limit the re-accumulation of pots after removal. For more information on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Someone holding a derelict crab pot and a pile of derelict crab pots.

The New Jersey Audubon is working to remove derelict crab pots from coastal New Jersey and the Delaware Bay. (Photo Credit: NOAA (left); NJ Audubon (right))

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


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Marine Debris Research: Ecological and Economic Assessment of Derelict Fishing Gear in the Chesapeake Bay

By: Amy Uhrin, Chief Scientist for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

The Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery accounts for 50% of the United States blue crab harvest, and is worth about $80 million annually. It’s estimated that about 600,000 crab traps (also called “pots”) are actively fished on an annual basis in the Bay. Some crab pots become lost (derelict) when the pot’s buoy line becomes detached or cut, either by vessel propellers, faulty lines, or vandalism. Strong storms can also move pots from their original deployment location, making them difficult to relocate. In addition, pots may be abandoned, as has been observed at high rates in some regions of the Bay. Once lost, derelict pots can damage sensitive habitats and continue to capture blue crabs and other animals, often resulting in their death. To assess the ecological and economic impacts of derelict blue crab pots in the Chesapeake Bay, a diverse team of researchers from CSS-Dynamac, Inc.; Versar, Inc.; the Virginia Institute of Marine Science; and Global Science & Technology, Inc. recently completed a comprehensive Bay-wide assessment, funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

A derelict drab trap.

Blue crabs are harvested using rigid, cube-shaped wire traps that are galvanized or vinyl-coated. Here, diamondback terrapins can be seen inside a standard pot. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

This study estimates that some 145,000 derelict crab pots exist in the Chesapeake Bay, with 12-20% of actively-fished pots becoming lost each year. Not surprisingly, many derelict pots are found in areas of the Bay with heavy recreational and commercial boat traffic or fishing activity. These derelict pots kill over 3.3 million blue crabs annually. In addition, many other economically-important species can be impacted, such as white perch (3.5 million captured annually) and Atlantic croaker (3.6 million captured annually). Derelict pots thus “compete” with pots that are in active use —they catch or attract crabs that could otherwise be caught by active pots, and can therefore reduce commercial harvests.

Map of Chesapeake Bay with colors indicating density of derelict pots.

The predicted spatial distribution of derelict crab pot densities in Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CSS-Dynamac, Inc.; Versar, Inc.; Virginia Institute of Marine Science; and Global Science & Technology, Inc.)

Through statistical modeling, this study found that targeted derelict crab pot removal programs greatly increase the number of crabs caught by actively-fished pots, resulting in significant economic benefits for the fishery. The model estimated that derelict pot removals increased Bay-wide crab harvests by over 38 million pounds over a six-year period (2008 to 2014), amounting to $33.5 million in added revenue (in 2014 dollars). This study also found that pot removals are most effective when they focus on areas with intensive crab fishing activity.

This study also suggests management actions that may help in reducing the number of new derelict pots and their associated negative impacts. These include minimizing boat traffic in popular crabbing areas and educating boat operators about avoiding active crab pots, which would help reduce the number of cut buoy lines. Creating and maintaining derelict pot recovery programs, or incentivizing watermen to remove lost pots, would also help reduce the number of derelict pots in the Bay. In addition, outfitting crab pots with biodegradable “escape hatch” panels would reduce mortality of captured animals.

In addition to the Chesapeake Bay assessment, the team also created a Guiding Framework for derelict fishing gear assessments, which can be applied to other fisheries and/or regions interested in conducting similar studies. The final report for the Chesapeake Bay Assessment and the Guiding Framework document can be found on our website.


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New Jersey Event Highlights Derelict Crab Pot Removal Efforts

On Friday, February 26th, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and its partners held an event in Waretown, New Jersey, to highlight an exciting derelict crab pot removal effort in Barnegat Bay. The event highlighted a project, led by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant, which is working to identify, retrieve, and inventory over 1,000 derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, N.J.

Covanta partnered with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey to provide two bins for collecting the retrieved derelict gear, to then haul and dispose of at their waste-to-energy facility. Covanta is part of Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel Industries. Through this unique partnership, bins to collect old, damaged, and derelict fishing gear have been placed at 44 ports in nine states and over 3 million pounds of gear have been collected and recycled.

The event offered an opportunity for media, congressional staff, and interested local residents to see first-hand how this project works to improve New Jersey waters. These types of events are important to raise public awareness of the marine debris issue and educate local communities about what can and is being done about it.


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I Crab, You Crab, We Crab (While Properly Rigging Our Pots)!

Lots of news from the Mid-Atlantic region! First, a BIG winter storm is heading that way and we encourage all to plan accordingly and stay safe during the severe winter weather. If you need tips on how to prepare for such an event, click here. Second, once the snow has come and gone, three new projects can continue their work and collaboration to fight marine debris throughout New Jersey waters and shores. Here’s a quick look at these exciting efforts:

 

A "Rig It Right" kit and an example of how to use it to rig a crab pot.

“Rig It Right” kits, provided by the WeCrab project at their workshops for recreational crabbers. (Photo Credit: Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve; Steve Evert)

Teaming up with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Rutgers University and partners are leading efforts to prevent derelict fishing gear and other debris from entering local coastal and marine environments. This “WeCrab” project addresses the issue of lost crab pots, which are often the result of recreational crabbers that don’t know how to properly rig their gear. To do this, the WeCrab project is hosting workshops to teach crabbers how to rig their pots right, teacher professional development trainings, and small-scale crab pot removals. Read more about this exciting project here.

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey project leaders tag their first derelict crab pots removed in Barnegat Bay! (Photo credit: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is also making strides in the fight against marine debris and working with the WeCrab Project for some of its efforts. Focusing in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, this project is not only working to remove derelict crab pots, but also to better understand how many pots are lost and what their impacts are. Prevention is the ultimate solution, so in addition to removing over a thousand derelict crab pots from Barnegat Bay, this project is also conducting education and outreach activities, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Check out more about this project here.

 

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

Derelict crab pots are removed from coastal waters. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Zimmermann, Stockton University)

See how well things work when we work together? Another New Jersey project is working to rid its shores of marine debris, in part in collaboration with the WeCrab project. Focusing on Southern New Jersey, Stockton University, with a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, is not only removing crab pots from coastal bays, but is also educating and training crabbers how to prevent trap loss and use low-cost sonar to locate and recover lost pots. Check out more about this project here.

Such exciting things are happening in the Mid-Atlantic region this year! Stay tuned to the NOAA Marine Debris Program website and blog for updates on projects in this region and throughout the country.


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The Dilemma of Derelict Gear

A boat full of derelict crab pots. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict crab pots can be damaging in many ways. (Photo Credit: Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)/VIMS)

Derelict fishing gear can create a lot of problems: hazards to navigation, damage to sensitive habitats, and ghostfishing. Ghostfishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear that is no longer under a fisherman’s control continues to capture marine life. This is obviously bad news for local marine animals that can end up ensnared in derelict gear, but it can be harmful to local fisheries too. That’s what scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) think and set out to prove.

VIMS researchers considered that apart from the obvious financial loss of losing gear, fisheries may suffer due to competition between active and derelict gear, specifically blue crab pots. Their research and analysis, funded in part by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, evaluates the hypothesis that derelict crab pots compete with active gear by attracting target species that might otherwise be attracted to actively-fished crab pots. This reduces commercial fishery harvests and revenues and is thus a lose-lose situation for both the crabs and crabbers.

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

A side-scan sonar image of an active crab pot (on the left, with attached buoy) and a derelict crab pot (on the right, missing an attached buoy) in the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo Credit: CCRM/VIMS)

To test this hypothesis, VIMS researchers created a model that allowed them to assess fishery harvests in Virginia with and without derelict gear present. Using this model, they compared fishery harvests with derelict crab pots removed via a large-scale removal project, and a hypothetical scenario where no pots were removed. The comparison also accounted for other factors that could potentially impact harvests, such as stock abundance and environmental conditions, so that the effect of derelict gear removal could be isolated.

The results of this comparison indicated that the Virginia Marine Debris Location and Removal Program, which removed 34,408 derelict crab pots over six years, increased crab harvests in Virginia by 27%, or by 30 million pounds valued at $21.3 million for fishermen! This was the direct result of reduced gear competition and thus the improved efficiency of active crab pots. Removal was found especially effective in highly-fished areas with higher rates of pot loss. Extending their findings globally, VIMS researchers speculate that removing about 10% of derelict pots and traps could increase crustacean harvests by over 600 million pounds per year. These findings exhibit just one of the many damaging effects of derelict fishing gear.

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

A figure demonstrating the Virginia crab harvest with derelict crab pots removed (blue line) and without the pots removed (red line). (Photo Credit: VIMS)

This study and its results were accepted for publication by the journal Nature Scientific Reports (for you non-science folks, that’s a big deal), with VIMS researchers A. M. Scheld, D. M. Bilkovic, and K. J. Havens as authors on the paper. For more on these and associated efforts, check out the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.


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Marine Debris in the Mid-Atlantic & What the National Aquarium is Doing About It

The marine debris found in the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Mid-Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia, is often tied to the Chesapeake Bay. This important body of water is enjoyed by many people who come to visit or live close by in one of the many urbanized areas on the bay, including Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Unfortunately, lots of people often mean lots of marine debris. The NOAA Marine Debris Program works to fight debris in the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways by focusing on prevention, removal, and research. This year, there are lots of exciting things happening in the Mid-Atlantic region to continue our fight against marine debris!

One such project is located in Baltimore, Maryland, where the NOAA Marine Debris Program is teaming up with the National Aquarium to clean up and prevent marine debris. This project is working to create a network of neighborhood leaders to initiate and lead marine debris prevention efforts in their communities, with the aim of creating lasting behavior change that will help to prevent trash from becoming marine debris in the first place. Focusing on a highly urbanized area with a big marine debris problem, the National Aquarium is working with local communities to create a prevention program, as well as holding workshops and communication training sessions with community volunteers to help people spread the word to their neighbors! In addition to these prevention efforts, the project is also running cleanup events that will help to eliminate some of the debris that has already accumulated in the area.

For more information on this project, visit the project profile page on our website.