NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Help Us Reduce Marine Debris Threats to Endangered Species

By: Dianna Parker

Marine debris impacts many species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including species of sea turtles, whales, seals, and even corals. These fragile populations face a variety of stressors in the ocean from humans, derelict fishing gear, trash, and other debris.

Derelict fishing nets or other synthetic debris in the ocean often entangles animals, leaving them wounded, unable to hunt or swim. Heavy nets and other gear can crush coral and degrade habitat.

And many species mistake plastic for food. All seven species of sea turtles eat marine debris – plastic bags in particular. In August 2014, a dead endangered sei whale washed ashore in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and researchers found a broken CD case in its stomach. Recent research shows we are putting eight million metric tons of plastic into the ocean.

Here are a few photos of these impacts:

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The good news is, we can help protect endangered and threatened species from these impacts by paying a little extra attention to our waste.

This Endangered Species Day, everyone can recommit to using less single-use plastic items, recycling plastics, or reminding friends and family that releasing balloons into the air can harm sea life.

Fishermen can dispose of old, unwanted fishing gear through programs like Fishing for Energy or Reel in and RecycleIn the meantime, there are groups all over the world working to prevent gear loss, through collaboration and innovation.

Or, help us spread awareness, especially to youth. We provide activities and curriculum that can help educate youth on marine debris and inspire ocean stewardship.

(Also, don’t forget to take a look at NOAA’s “Species in the Spotlight.” According to our colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, “of all the species NOAA protects under the ESA, we consider eight among the most at risk of extinction in the near future.”)

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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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Giving Back to Mother Earth

By: Asma Mahdi

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and last month we all took some time to celebrate one of the greatest mothers of all: Mother Earth.

April, being Earth Month, was full of activities to help protect and restore our ocean planet. The NOAA Marine Debris Program thanks all the volunteers that came out to celebrate Mother Earth. Our staff and partners took to local lakes, rivers, streams, and coasts to help with the effort of keeping our waters clean. Here’s a look at some of our April highlights:

CoastSavers (Washington)

More than 80 volunteers came out at first “light” to cleanup parts of Washington’s outer coastline at Sand Point and Cape Alava.

CoastSavers, a program of the Washington Clean Coast Alliance (WCCA), has been organizing and coordinating the Earth Day cleanup since 2007. A coalition of federal, state, and local  agencies, Indian Tribes, NGO, industry and citizen volunteers, the WCCA works throughout the year to address marine debris, and supports to execute such a large event, with over 50 sites cleaned.


A high-five for a job well done removing debris from Washington’s outer coastline and trekking it back for disposal!


Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) (Washington, D.C.)

NOAA staff and volunteers participated in AWS’ annual Earth Day cleanup event in the nation’s capitol. The cleanup took place at more than 30 sites throughout Anacostia’s watershed. Volunteers joined forces to remove debris from neighborhoods, parks, streams, and the Anacostia river.

IMG_4794NOAA staff dig deep to remove debris from Anacostia River’s shoreline.

Surfrider, San Francisco Chapter (California)

Keeping their environmental footprint in mind, Surfrider’s San Francisco chapter hosted a low-waste beach cleanup in Ocean Beach, CA. They provided reusable buckets for volunteers to collect marine debris. This helped reduce the use of plastic bags used at the cleanup site.


Volunteers return with marine debris in reusable buckets at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach cleanup.

Texas GLO Spring Cleanup (Texas)

Into it’s 29th year, the annual Texas Adopt-A-Beach Spring Cleanup attracted nearly 5,000 volunteers this past month. They removed 60 tons of debris from 150 miles from the state’s shorelines.


Cleanup volunteers take-on a spread of plastic water bottles that have accumulated on San Jose Island, TX.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii (Hawaii)

Local organizations, such as Kailua Beach Adventures, teamed up with Sustainable Coastline Hawaii to clean Hawaii’s beaches and involve the community during Earth Month. Last year, Kailua Beach Adventures won the “Microplastic Sand Sifter” competition with Sustainable Coastline Hawaii.

sand sifter

Volunteers sifted sand to find microplastics and nurdles that are often hidden.

A huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers and happy Mother’s Day to Mother Earth!

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Let’s Show Our Teachers Appreciation

By: Leah Henry

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day, so we in the NOAA Marine Debris Program would like to give a great big thank you to all teachers, especially those who spend time talking about marine debris in their classrooms.

Here are some tools to help teachers with marine debris lessons: We offer free downloadable activities and curriculum on our website, we fund and support marine debris prevention through education and outreach projects through regional partnership grants, and we host an annual marine debris art contest to engage students and empower their communities in taking steps to “Keep the Sea Free of Debris!” Stay tuned for this year’s contest, opening in the fall.

Thank you teachers and educators – both formal and informal. We appreciate all that you do to keep our students informed and our environment clean.


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Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Challenge States

By: Dianna Parker

Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) are a major problem for states where boating is a part of life. With increasing frequency, boats of all sizes are becoming abandoned and derelict, and they have a negative impact on recreational boating and fishing, leisure activities, and the environment.

Removing an ADV from the water isn’t as simple as, say, towing a broken-down car. The vessel can contain hazardous materials that must be taken out first by trained personnel and are often found either in shallow, difficult to reach areas, or in deep waters in a decrepit state. This requires large specialized equipment (i.e. barges and cranes) to lift, transport, and remove the ADV. Vessel registration laws vary state-to-state, and in some cases, agencies may not even know the ADV’s owner. Removal is an expensive and complicated process, and often no one entity has the ability to do it alone.

That’s why last week, 52 representatives from 15 states, four federal agencies, and Canada gathered at NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center for a workshop on ADVs. The goal was to share information on the best ways to deal with ADVs so that stakeholders could implement ideas back home. The workshop participants brought a wealth of experience, traded success stories and challenges, and made valuable connections.

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Despite the challenges, there’s a lot of work going on across the regions to address this problem. The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports a number of ADV removal projects in U.S. states and territories, including Coral Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, and Palm Beach County shorelines in Florida. Some groups are just getting started, but others have claimed victory with removals in Dog River in Alabama, Fordson Island in Michigan, and San Diego Bay in California. And of course, there’s significant work going on in Northeastern states to remove ADVs that were lost as a result of Sandy.

Those are just a few of the many, many projects and ADV programs across the country. This week, we’ll share a few more highlights – including an incredible story out of the Dog River project, where the project leads blew all expectations away. Stay tuned.

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A Little Earth Day Trash Talk

By: NOAA Marine Debris Program Staff

Let’s kick off this Earth Day celebration,  with some “Trash Talk”! The marine debris kind of course.

As a gift to our ocean planet, today we’re releasing our first video “What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?”  from our upcoming “Trash Talk” series with NOAA Ocean Today. Stay tuned to learn more about marine debris when we release the entire series World Ocean Day, June 8th, and throughout the month of June.

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We Asked Volunteers Why They Clean Up

By: Leah Henry

For the last 26 years, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has organized a successful, region-wide, volunteer-driven cleanup of the Potomac River watershed. Since its inception, seven million pounds of trash has been removed, making the Potomac cleaner and more beautiful.

This year was no different. We asked excited and dedicated volunteers what made them come to locations across the D.C. metro area to pitch in and clean up. Let’s hear from a few!

Ellie is a local business owner, unable to attend the gala planned a few weeks from now opted to volunteer instead because she joked “I want a reason to be at that gala, a reason to gloat”  while Will stated “ I was dragged” and gestured to Ellie.

“I want a reason to attend the Potomac Conservancy ‘Take Me to the River’ Gala on April 30th – a reason to gloat,” says Ellie. 

“I was dragged,” confesses Will and gestures to Ellie.

“I love being outside, I grew up on a farm, being with friends, and we spotted the first snake of the season! And, truthfully I can’t stay inside, watching Netflix and eating Doritos anymore – it is spring!” Dontay (third from left)

 “I love being outside and being with friends – I grew up on a farm. We spotted the first snake of the season! And, truthfully, I can’t stay inside watching Netflix and eating Doritos anymore – it is spring!” explains Dontay (third from left)

“My daughter got the boots,” kids Kim “We participate in cleanups every year and have since Lana was small. We love coming to this place, we are avid bikers, and when we were making plans to attend the cherry blossom festivities this year we found this cleanup and thought we’d skip the Cherry Blossom Parade for a much better cause.”

“My daughter got the boots,” jokes Kim. “We participate in cleanups every year and have since Lana was small.We love coming to this place, we are avid bikers, and when we were making plans to attend the cherry blossom festivities, we found this cleanup and thought we’d skip the Cherry Blossom Parade for a much better cause.”

“This time a friend just forwarded me an email but I've been doing cleanups since I was a kid,” says Amanda.

“This time, a friend just forwarded me an email but I’ve been doing cleanups since I was a kid,” says a triumphant Amanda.

"It's for the birds," says Nancy

“It’s for the birds,” says Nancy.

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“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

The Theodore Roosevelt Island site of the Alice Ferguson Foundation cleanup on April 11, 2015 was hosted by Potomac Conservancy and the National Park Service.


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