NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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That’s Some Scary Stuff: Ghosts, Ghouls & Halloween Debris

Halloween is coming! Prepare to be scared, for Halloween comes with lots of frights: ghosts, ghouls and—that’s right—marine debris.

Unfortunately, Halloween often means more trash that can become marine debris. Wrappers are one of the top debris items throughout the year and the many candy wrappers that are part of this spooky holiday can substantially add to their accumulation.

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

So, as you’re trick-or-treating this year, think about the scary impact your actions can have on our ocean and Great Lakes! Make sure those wrappers are properly disposed of and if you’re handing out candy, consider some non-plastic options, such as goodies packaged in cardboard boxes that can be recycled. We can all be part of fighting the marine debris that haunts us!

As you’re trick-or-treating this Halloween, watch out for scares… Goblins! Monsters! Debris! BOO! (Drawing by Teeger B., Grade 8, California, art contest winner featured in the 2013 Marine Debris Calendar)


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Massive Open Online Course on Marine Litter Starts Monday!

It’s here! The first Massive Open Online Course on Marine Litter starts this Monday, October 26th!

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which serves as the secretariat of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML), is launching the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on marine litter today, prepared in collaboration with The Open Universiteit in the Netherlands. Nancy Wallace, the Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program and Chair of UNEP’s GMPL, contributed a lecture to this curriculum.

This course can be accessed for free by people all over the world and provides examples and case studies of marine debris issues that will help to inspire leadership and stimulate creative solutions to the problem. Students can choose to enroll in the “leadership track” for a two-week course and then continue to an eight-week “expert track”, if they wish to learn more.

Click here if you would like to enroll!

UNEP's Massive Open Online Course on Marine Litter starts Monday, October 26th!

UNEP’s Massive Open Online Course on Marine Litter starts Monday, October 26th!

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The Dangers of Marine Debris: A Sad Story

Marine debris can be a dangerous problem for the animals that inhabit the marine environment. Unfortunately, we recently saw this first-hand on a Florida beach. A melon-headed whale that was recovered along Florida’s east coast died due to a large plastic bag in its digestive system. NOAA Fisheries’ stranding network staff, partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute responded to the call about a stranding on Riviera Beach. A decision was made to euthanize the whale after vets at the Palm Beach Zoo determined that the animal was in very poor condition and extremely thin. A necropsy (a non-human autopsy) was performed by a veterinarian to discover the cause of the animal’s poor health and subsequent death, during which a large plastic bag was found to be blocking the whale’s intestinal tract. The whale had suffered from starvation due to the blockage.

This is a sad reminder of the impact of marine debris. Every piece of debris matters. Animals can mistake trash for food or accidentally ingest it when consuming actual food items. However, we can help! By properly disposing of our trash, following the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), helping to educate others, and by cleaning up our shorelines and waterways by getting involved in cleanup events, we can fight the marine debris problem and work to avoid outcomes like this in the future. To learn more about how you can help, visit our website.

The plastic bag found within a melon-headed whale's digestive tract. (Photo Credit: FAU Harbor Branch)

The plastic bag found within a melon-headed whale’s digestive tract. (Photo Credit: FAU Harbor Branch)

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California’s “First Flush”

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Marine debris along the California coast. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Marine debris along the California coast. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Some parts of Southern California have already had record rainfalls this wet season, thanks to storms that moved through in mid-September. The state desperately needs the rain, but not the marine debris that comes with it. Major rainstorms inevitably lead to runoff, which can mobilize and turn upstream litter into marine debris downstream. Unfortunately, this yearly influx of much-needed rains often translates to a surge of marine debris, or the “first flush.”

This year could be a particularly wet one for California. The National Weather Service is predicting a wetter than average year with El Niño, which brings more marine debris concerns, as sights such as seen in these photos are common after major winter storms.

So what can we do? For starters, the easiest thing is to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle to cut off debris at the source. If wet or windy weather is in the forecast, try to schedule a neighborhood cleanup before the storm, and consider not leaving your full garbage, recycling, or compost bins on the street until the weather has passed.

The upside is that local efforts to intercept and filter out solid debris in runoff are on the rise. As you might have read in a previous blog, a NOAA study showed that reducing marine debris on Southern California beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents. Preventing litter from becoming marine debris is good news for our beaches and our wallets!

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

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Now Open: the Annual NOAA Marine Debris Program Art Contest

Get your art supplies ready, because this year’s NOAA Marine Debris Program Art Contest is now officially open!

Students grades K-8 can submit artwork through November 30th that answers the questions:

• How does marine debris impact the oceans and Great Lakes?
• What are you doing to help prevent marine debris?

Winning entries will be featured in our 2017 Marine Debris Calendar. Be creative and help raise awareness about marine debris! For a complete list of contest rules, visit our website and download the student entry form and art contest flyer.

Ready… set… draw!

The Annual NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest is now open! (drawing by winner Armanita L., Grade 7, Washington, featured on the 2014 Marine Debris Calendar)

The Annual NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest is now open! (drawing by winner Armanita L., Grade 7, Washington, featured on the 2014 Marine Debris Calendar)


Blue Fox Bay Lodge Marine Debris Cleanups

By: Colleen Rankin, Guest Blogger and Resident of Blue Fox Bay

Blue Fox Bay Lodge is located on a bay on the northwest corner of Afognak Island, the second largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska. Two of us, Colleen Rankin and Jerry Sparrow, are lucky enough to call this wilderness home.

Arctic ERMA image of Blue Fox Bay and vicinity.

Arctic ERMA image of Blue Fox Bay and vicinity.

In 2012, through the outreach efforts of the Marine Conservation Alliance (now administered by the Sitka Sound Science Center), we were selected to receive a grant to remove marine debris from the remote beaches in this area. During the next three years, our efforts continued with the support of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, a private grant, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, with funding provided by the Japanese government to clean up tsunami-related debris.

Along with a few volunteers, we have removed over 32,000 pounds of varying debris. Fishing gear including nets, lines and buoys, have made up the largest portion by weight. Nets and lines can also collect other items as they move through the water and we have found clumps of this derelict gear with over 30 different debris pieces entwined. Foam debris has increased significantly over the years and is very attractive to the bears that live here; we have found where they shred it and carry it into the forest. Plastic is the material that best represents the lives of our modern society and we have found countless single-use items including drinking bottles, caps, food packaging, and many household and personal items.

Gaining access to such remote beaches has presented many challenges, including the expense. In many places, local stewardship is a great model for removal because it uses the resources and knowledge that are already in the area. This is especially evident when inclement weather can hamper efforts and local people can slip out for cleanups between storms.

Once we have contained the debris, the biggest challenge we face is final disposal. So far, the Kenai Borough has granted us a variance (a special permission needed due to restrictions on the disposal of marine debris in many Alaskan landfills) and so a portion of the debris has gone to their landfill. Some debris has gone to local fishermen for reuse, and much of it has been given to local artists and gardeners. Some buoys have even been made into swings for kids. However, we are finding more broken plastic of no obvious use and a major reuse and disposal plan is a crucial step to deal with the issue.

Marine debris foam pieces were re-purposed as wall insulation. (Photo Credit: Colleen Rankin)

Marine debris foam pieces were re-purposed as wall insulation. (Photo Credit: Colleen Rankin)

We will continue to clean these important areas, particularly near bird rookeries, salmon streams, and high impact beaches. These efforts are crucial to protecting Alaska’s coasts from the harmful effects of marine debris.

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Past and Present Community Marine Debris Cleanups in Alaska’s Kodiak Archipelago: Tugidak and Shuyak

By: Tom Pogson, Guest Blogger and Director of Education, Outreach, and Marine Programs at Island Trails Network

Alaskan shorelines that are heavily impacted by marine debris are often remote and inaccessible. The Kodiak Archipelago, approximately 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, is greatly affected by marine debris because of its 1,500 miles of shoreline and its position in the Gulf of Alaska. Island Trails Network (ITN) is a community-based non-profit specializing in marine debris advocacy in the Kodiak Archipelago and works to address this problem.

A map of the Kodiak Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska, including Tugidak and Shuyak Islands. (Photo Credit: Island Trails Network & Google Earth)

A map of the Kodiak Archipelago, including Tugidak and Shuyak Islands. (Photo Credit: Island Trails Network & Google Earth)

Tugidak (pronounced tug-ee-duck) – The Past
Tugidak is an uninhabited island that is located 120 miles southwest of Kodiak City and has one of the largest concentrations of marine debris in the western Gulf of Alaska. Funded by a NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Community-based Removal Grant, ITN removed 86,000 pounds of debris from 16.8 miles of shoreline in the Tugidak Island State Critical Habitat Area in 2013 and 2014. Cleanup supplies were delivered to the island using large landing crafts, which were also used to remove debris. Volunteers and staff reached Tugidak from Kodiak in floatplanes, travelled and collected marine debris using ATVs with trailers, and camped in an abandoned mining compound a few feet from the surf. They collected mostly derelict fishing gear, totes, and buckets, but many industrial materials, household goods and plastics of all kinds were also removed. This project also included the creation of marine debris art and targeted Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet to increase awareness of the problem.

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Shuyak (pronounced shoe-yak) – The Future
At the opposite, eastern end of the Kodiak Archipelago is the idyllic Shuyak Island State Park, whose shorelines have also been heavily impacted by marine debris. Shuyak is only about 100 square miles, with 60 miles of contoured shoreline and extensive protected waters. It is home to several species of Pacific salmon, Steller sea lions, sea otters, Humpback and Orca whales and harbor seals and its surrounding waters support commercial and sport fishing of salmon, halibut and cod. Because of the natural value and large concentrations of marine debris, cleanup projects on Shuyak Island are a high priority. However, like Tugidak, Shuyak is only accessible by boat or float plane and there are no roads or landing strips. A handful of residents live in Port William on the south shore, an abandoned cannery turned hunting and fishing lodge and the only settlement on Shuyak.

ITN was recently awarded another MDP Community-based Removal Grant for a cleanup of Shuyak Island. Over the course of 16 weeks during the summers of 2016 and 2017, ITN staff and volunteers will clean all of Shuyak’s 60 nautical miles of shoreline using sea kayaks to access beaches where the approach is often barred by shallow rocky reefs. The Shuyak project will also quantify the types of debris removed, develop a representative display of debris from the area, build strategies to reduce common sources of debris using a community forum, and estimate the rate of re-accumulation of debris on a large stretch of shoreline.

Conducting marine debris removals from remote shorelines in Alaska is difficult and expensive; however, the benefits of restoring wilderness shorelines are untold. ITN thanks the MDP Community-based Removal grant program for enabling the completion of these cleanup projects in Alaska.