NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Disbanding the Oregon Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Task Force

A dock that came ashore on Agate Beach in Oregon was confirmed to be one of four docks that swept away from Japan's coastline after the devastating March 2011 tsunami.

A dock that came ashore on Agate Beach in Oregon was confirmed to be one of four docks that swept away from Japan’s coastline after the devastating March 2011 tsunami.

On October 29th, 2014, the Oregon Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) Task Force met for the last time, reviewed past and present JTMD activities, and disbanded. The end of the Task Force’s service is a good example of how a task force can come together and then dissolve to focus on other pressing regional priorities. It’s also an indication that Japan tsunami marine debris, which was front and center of public and media attention two years ago, has now diminished. JTMD will continue to be researched and studied but it has always been part of the larger and persistent marine debris problem that impacts the world’s oceans.

The “Oregon JTMD Task Force” was established shortly after the floating dock from Misawa, identified as Japan tsunami marine debris, landed on Agate beach, near Newport, Oregon. Task Force members included representatives from state, federal, and local agencies, NGOs and academia. They collaborated closely over the last two and a half years to address JTMD. They drafted the Oregon JTMD Plan and conducted public meetings to introduce it. As funding to address JTMD became available from NOAA and through a generous gift from the Government of Japan, the Task Force put it to good use. The Task Force met periodically to provide updates and discuss JTMD issues, and its members have collaborated to study invasive species found on JTMD, and remove JTMD items, big and small, from the Oregon coast, with the help of thousands of dedicated volunteers.

Recently, the Government of Japan confirmed this blue box that came ashore in Lakewood, Oregion to be JTMD.

Recently, the Government of Japan confirmed this blue box that came ashore in Lakewood, Oregion to be JTMD.

It is telling that a week prior to the Task Force’s last meeting, a large blue plastic box was found near Lakewood, Oregon, a box that has since been confirmed by the Government of Japan as having washed out from Fudai Village in Iwate Prefecture during the tsunami. More JTMD, mixed with other marine debris from places near and far, will surely come ashore in the months and even years to come, but the entities that were part of the Oregon JTMD Task Force now benefit from the experience gained, the response plan created, the lessons learned, and the on-going collaboration of all involved, and be well prepared to handle whatever washes ashore.

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A Better Belle Isle

By: Sarah Lowe (Opfer)

A portion of shoreline on Belle Isle, Michigan is now free of marine debris!  In 2012, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided funding to the Alliance for the Great Lakes to tackle the problem of marine debris on this historic island.

Throughout the past two years, the project team has been busy on four different project components.  The removal project helped clean up 200 metric tons of debris, which included concrete slabs, rebar, and other metal debris.

The project enlisted the help of 514 volunteers representing 13 different groups to participate in the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach™ program to remove and record litter from the Belle Isle shoreline. Volunteers spent 2,170 hours of service and removed 4,563.5 pounds of debris.

Belle Isle is a popular recreational area for Detroit, Michigan.  It is the largest city-owned island park in the United States, and is currently leased to the state of Michigan.  This allowed for some unique education and outreach opportunities in partnership with the Belle Isle Nature Zoo and other groups on the island.  The Boat US Foundation donated five monofilament fishing line recycling bins. The bins were installed at various fishing piers and other popular fishing spots around the island.  Volunteers from Go Lightly Career and Tech Center visited the bins monthly to record the amount of fishing line collected in the bins for a total of 55 entries to the BoatUS Foundation database.

Beyond the bins, the Alliance worked with the Belle Isle Nature Zoo to also develop an educational mobile display to educate zoo-goers about the recycling project on the island and to stress the problem with fishing line and trash left in the Great Lakes environment. Recently the Nature Zoo used it at a special youth day in Detroit on July 11 reaching an estimated that 1,500 students.  The Nature Zoo itself hosts more than 60,000 visitors a year.

Belle Isle mobile education display

Belle Isle mobile education display

While marine debris removal projects have obvious benefits to habitat, many of our funded projects like Belle Isle, reach beyond their footprint to make a difference in the community and to educate others on the impacts of marine debris.

“It’s one of the most productive partnerships that I can think of. Working together, the impact we have made on teachers, students and the community really is priceless. It’s immeasurable,” said Belle Isle Nature Zoo’s Mike Reed.

The project team successfully secured funds to continue the work to make a “Better Belle Isle.” Learn more about NOAA Marine Debris Program’s removal funding opportunity here.

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The International Coastal Cleanup Turns the Tide on Trash

By: Asma Mahdi

What does fishing line, a miniature plastic toy dog, and a single use water bottle have in common? They’re all marine debris found at this year’s International Coastal Cleanup.

Volunteers across the country from the Eastern shores of the U.S. to the Hawaiian islands participated in the largest single-day, volunteer effort to help protect our oceans from trash. In California alone, volunteers prevented nearly 680,000 pounds of trash from entering our oceans – stopping it in its tracks.

Thank you to all volunteers who came out on Saturday to clean up our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Here’s a look at what NOAA volunteers across the nation found during the cleanup event:

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Announcing Marine Debris State of the Science Reports

By: Asma Mahdi

The NOAA Marine Debris Program, in partnership with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, is undertaking an effort to assess the state of marine debris science. We have started off with two reports on marine debris entanglements and ingestion. The reports are results of a rigorous research synthesis and highlight debris impacts to marine wildlife, including whales, seals, turtles, and birds.

These reports will help the Marine Debris Program better understand debris impacts and identify knowledge gaps, so we can forge forward to find solutions through further research and targeted prevention and reduction activities. Visit the to download a copy of the full reports.


Keep “The Land of the Free,” Free of Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

On Friday night, many of us from coast to coast will watch spectacular fireworks takeover starry skies with brightly colored chrysanthemum bursts of red, white, and blue. It’s the Fourth of July – a day for friends and families to rejoice in our nation’s independence and jump into summertime festivities. It’s often an afterthought, but after the bursts of lights cease and the crowd clears, who’s going to clean-up the mess?

The morning after a fireworks display, not surprisingly, is a dirty day at the beach. Pieces of litter can easily be traced back to activities from the day before with a noticeable increase in firework debris along the coastline. You can find spent plastic shells, tubes, wings, and other small remnants in pockets where fireworks launched just a day before. These plastic pieces, especially hard plastics, are a potential human health hazard, with a risk of injury, and can be easily mistaken for food by marine animals, especially birds.

There are simple steps we can all take to prevent this debris from entering the ocean. If you plan to celebrate this Fourth of July with fireworks, keep the “land of the free,” free of debris:

  • Most importantly, be safe and make sure it is legal to use fireworks in your state. Check this listing at to see your state’s firework regulation laws. Local regulations vary, so be sure to check those out, too.
  • Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to learn how to properly and safely handle and dispose of used fireworks.
  • Volunteer for a beach cleanup after the Fourth of July to help remove debris left behind.

There are several cleanups events nationwide. Participate in one of these post-celebration beach cleanups or find a cleanup near your region:

Washington: Host: via Grassroots Garbage Gang, Long Beach Peninsula Saturday, July 5

Oregon: Host: SOLVE Seaside Beach Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Northern California: Host: Save our Shores Various sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey County Friday, July 4th (noon – 4pm), and Saturday, July 5 (8am – 10am)

Southern California: Host: Heal the Bay Manhattan Beach Saturday, July 19, 10am – noon

Hawaii: Host: ProjectAware Magic Island Beach Cleanup Saturday, July 5, 8am – noon

Great Lakes: Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Various locations at times, click link for more info Saturday, July 5

New Hampshire: Host: Blue Ocean Society Jenness Beach Wed, July 9, 6:30 PM

Massachusetts: Host: Surfride Foundation, MassachusettsChristian A Herter Park Sat, July 12, 2:30pm – 4:30pm

Florida: Host: City of Maderia Beach Archibald Park Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Florida: Host: Keepers of the Coast Various locations Saturday, July 5, 5pm – 7pm



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It’s a trap!

By: Courtney Arthur

Fishing traps, often used to catch crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs, may be abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded in the marine environment. This type of derelict fishing gear is important to consider due to its widespread nature, persistence for long periods of time, and impacts that include “ghost fishing” and damage to sensitive marine habitats. Since these traps sit on the ocean floor, they are often forgotten about as a type of marine debris.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program took a regional approach in funding derelict trap research in locations across the country. We were interested to know how many traps were out there, if they were “ghost fishing,” and how the traps were impacting habitat and fisheries. Three scientists led studies in Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys, and they will share their stories about derelict fishing gear and its impacts here on our blog in the coming weeks.

There’s also a significant amount of trap removal work going on across the country (e.g. North Carolina!), so we’ll also share success stories from partners. To kick us off, here’s some good news we recently heard from Timothy W. Jones, Aquatic Preserve Manager at St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in Florida:

This spring, the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve staff removed approximately 640 pounds of marine debris, including 60 derelict crab traps from the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in a single day.

Once discarded or lost, a blue crab trap can remain in the environment for over a decade, continuing to trap marine life. Blue crabs, stone crabs, diamondback terrapins, and fish are among the marine life unintentionally captured. The staff discovered a deceased diamondback terrapin in one derelict crab trap, an unfortunate reality when dealing with derelict traps. Fortunately, they also found and returned a mangrove snapper and two blue crabs that were still alive. Once collected, the derelict traps are crushed down and brought back to land for disposal.

The Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve, Florida’s largest aquatic preserve, which protects over 900,000 acres of submerged land, is supported by NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program and is home to mullet, sea trout, redfish, shrimp, oysters, scallops, manatee, osprey, dolphins, and sea turtles. Preventing derelict fishing gear from entangling and trapping these valuable species, and keeping their habitat free of degradation and damage is essential to their success.

Stay tuned for more!




Oregon’s Coastal Cleanup Draws Thousands and Highlights a Bond between Nations

By: Joy Irby, Guest blogger

Oregon beaches are ready for summer after shedding close to 24 tons of marine debris in March. Over 4,800 volunteers helped clear the entire Oregon coast of trash at the annual SOLVE Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup. Approximately 48,165 pounds of debris was removed, including 14 tires.

An Oregon tradition for 30 years, the twice-annual coast wide beach cleanups have seen nearly 225,000 Oregon volunteers remove an estimated 2.8 million pounds of trash from the coast since 1984. Dedicated volunteer coordinators lead thousands of participants across 47 cleanup sites statewide, including several Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff and members of the Surfrider Foundation.

The most common items found were cigarette butts, fishing ropes, and plastic bottles. Interesting items found by volunteers included telephone poles, the remains of a sunken crab vessel, large semi-truck tires, and a 200 pound block of Styrofoam.

While debris from Japan was a rare find this year, SOLVE once again worked with over 60 volunteers from Portland Shokookai and the Japan-America Society of Oregon, a partnership that has been indispensable in the years following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“So many Oregonians have a deep bond with our Japanese friends whose lives and livelihoods were so affected by the tragic disasters of March 11, 2011. By coming together for the beach cleanup, we now have a framework of committed volunteers from many Japan-related organizations in our community who support efforts along our Oregon beaches now and in the future,” said Dixie McKeel, Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of Oregon.

Due to shared ocean currents, marine debris impacts coastlines across the North Pacific Ocean, washing up on both the shores of Japan and the West Coast of the United States. “The beach cleanup is a wonderful opportunity to work together and promote mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries,” added McKeel.

Joy Irby, is the program coordinator at SOLVE, a non-profit organization that brings together Oregonians to improve the environment and to build a legacy of stewardship.


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