NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Help Protect Endangered Species by Reducing Marine Debris

Marine debris impacts a variety of wildlife that rely on the ocean and Great Lakes for food and/or habitat. Unfortunately, this includes many animals that are protected under the Endangered Species Act, including species of seals, turtles, whales, and even corals. Even if these endangered species are located within a protected area or far from people, they can still be impacted by this human-created problem, which travels the world’s ocean with the currents. For example, the Papahānuamokuākea Marine National Monument provides one of the last remaining refuges for the Hawaiian monk seal. Although it is extremely remote and far from large human populations, it is still heavily impacted by marine debris, which finds its way to the shores of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands due to their location in relation to the currents of the Pacific Ocean.

Animals, including endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal, can be impacted by debris in a variety of ways. They can become entangled in items like derelict fishing nets, or mistake trash for food and ingest it. All seven species of sea turtles have been found to eat marine debris—especially plastic bags, which can look a lot like jellyfish, sea turtles’ favorite snack. Heavy fishing gear and other debris can also damage or smother corals and important habitats.

Luckily, we can help protect endangered and threatened species by paying more attention to how we might be contributing to this problem. Marine debris is entirely caused by humans, but that means that people have the power to solve the problem, too! For instance, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, NOAA crews have worked to remove 935 tons of marine debris since 1996! We can all help by following the “3Rs” to reduce the amount of single-use items we use, reuse items when possible, and recycle when we can. Spread the word to others so that they can help, too! Preventing marine debris is the ultimate solution to the problem, but to help address the stuff that’s already out there, join a cleanup near you or start one yourself using the Marine Debris Tracker app! We can all be a part of the solution to marine debris and part of the effort to protect our endangered and threatened species.

Happy Endangered Species Day!

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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.”)