Information on Marine Debris
What Is Marine Debris?
Marine debris is defined as any man-made, solid material that enters coastal and ocean waters directly (e.g., by dumping) or indirectly (e.g., washed out to sea via rivers, streams, storm drains, etc.). (Source: http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/debris/).
Where Does Marine Debris Come From?
Marine debris comes from both the land and the sea. Trash can be carried to the ocean from land by water, wind, and people. For example, trash from poorly secured garbage cans can ride a gust of wind or be caught up in stormwater runoff and find its way to the sea. Overall, land-based sources account for 80% of the marine debris found on beaches in the United States. (Source: http://epa.gov/owow/oceans/debris/).
Ocean-based debris generally comes from commercial and recreational boaters and fishers, as well as offshore oil and gas facilities. Lost fishing gear is particularly concerning as some types can "ghost fish"—meaning that they continue to catch and kill fish, sea turtles, lobster, and other animals. In addition to lost fishing gear and waste generated on board vessels or platforms, the vessels and platforms themselves can become marine debris during storms.
What Is the Impact of Marine Debris?
The problems associated with marine debris extend well beyond aesthetics. Marine debris can pose serious dangers to humans, birds, fish, marine animals, and marine vegetation.
- Sea bird, seals, and other animals can be choked, starved, or poisoned when they mistake debris for food. A particular problem is when sea turtles die after swallowing clear plastic bags that they mistake them for jellyfish. Animals can also become entangled in nets, bags, ropes, and other trash, often resulting in drowning, suffocation, loss of mobility, or starvation.
- Beachgoers may injure themselves on items such as pieces of glass, wood, or metal while swimming or walking on the sand.
- Marine debris poses a threat to navigation. Propellers can become jammed with fishing line; boats can be damaged by colliding with large pieces of debris; and plastic can clog cooling intakes.
How Can I Help Reduce Marine Debris?
There are many ways that you can help reduce marine debris:
- Participate in a COASTSWEEP Cleanup.
- Don't litter.
- Don't dump trash into storm drains.
- Purchase products with little packaging.
- Ensure that your yard is trash-free.
- Securely cover trash cans
- Carefully stow trash when boating
- Teach others about marine debris and encourage them to take action too.
Where Can I Learn More About Marine Debris?
- WUMB Commonwealth Journal Radio Interview with CZM's Robin Lacey about COASTSWEEP (aired 9/16/12).
- Marine Debris - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Marine Debris Program maintains this website with extensive information on marine debris, funding opportunities to address the problem, art contests to raise awareness, and much, much more.
- What Is Marine Debris? - This web page from the NOAA Marine Debris Program talks about the sources and types of marine debris.
- Interagency Report On Marine Debris Sources, Impacts, Strategies & Recommendations (PDF, 4.5 MB) - NOAA's Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee submitted this report to the U.S. Congress in August 2008.
- Marine Debris - This U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website gives extensive information on marine debris, its sources, and what is being done to address the problem.
- Assessing and Monitoring Floatable Debris - Also from EPA, this web page can help states, tribes, and local governments develop assessment and monitoring programs for floatable debris in coastal recreation waters.
- Voluntary Estuary Monitoring: A Methods Manual - This EPA manual includes a chapter on marine debris (Chapter 16), with techniques on organizing a volunteer marine debris monitoring and cleanup program.
- Trash Free Seas - This Ocean Conservancy webpage includes extensive information on marine debris and the international coastal cleanup, along with links to news articles, reports, and sources of additional information.
- Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem - The Global Environment Facility released this report on land-based sources and types of plastic debris.
- Algalita - This website provides information on marine debris and the work of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to protect the marine environment through research and education on marine plastic pollution.
- In Search of "Moby-Duck" - In this marketplace.org interview, Author Donovan Hohn discusses his book, Moby-Duck and lessons learned from his quest to find out what happened to 28,800 bath toys lost at sea in 1992.
- Fishing for Pollution in the Atlantic - This Boston Globe article from July 14, 2010, talks about the Atlantic Garbage Patch-an area in the middle of the ocean where plastic debris collects.
- 5 Gyres - This website provides information on five gyres where plastic debris collects in the world's oceans.
- Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers - This National Geographic News article of July 31, 2009, discusses the swirling garbage patch in the Pacific.
- Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All—And Fast - Also from National Geographic News, this August 20, 2009 article explains how some plastics degrade quickly at sea, but that lease leaches toxic chemicals into the environment.
- Cigarette butts toxic to fish, say researchers - This CBS News article talks about how cigarette butts (the number one item found in COASTSWEEP cleanups) can poison fish in the marine environment.
- Marine Debris Cleanup Initiative - Through this program, The Boston Harbor Association removes floatable debris from the Boston Harbor area.
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