Articles & Reports – Marine Debris

Articles & Reports

Topic Key

Biological Consequences

Marine Debris Concepts


Sources of Marine Debris

Strategies for Mitigation

Marine debris on Hawaii's Kanapou Bay. (Source: NOAA/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

EcoWatch - Jun 2018

"The Ocean Conservancy released on Wednesday its International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) report, a compilation of litter collected from a one-day cleanup of beaches and waterways worldwide.

For the first time since the report's inception more than 30 years ago, the 10 most common items picked up by volunteers around the world were made of plastic. Foam takeaway containers booted glass beverage bottles from this year's list."

4-H volunteers remove debris (Source: Agricultural Communications)

Mississippi State University Extension - AUG 2017

"Oceans and estuaries are two important ecosystems for plants, wildlife, and humans. Oceans are vast areas of salt water, such as the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, which also encompass smaller regions within them, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries occur where rivers meet the sea, and fresh and salt water mix, in areas such as the Mississippi Sound and Bay St. Louis. Together, oceans and estuaries provide many services that are helpful to humans; these are often referred to as ecosystem services, or nature’s benefits. These ecosystems support the production of seafood and provide recreational opportunities such as boating, swimming, fishing, and bird-watching."

Blue crabs in a derelict crab trap (Source: Pontchartrain Conservancy)

Pontchartrain Conservancy - 2020

"The blue crab (Callinectes sapidusis a mainstay of local cuisine and an important commercial fishery in Louisiana. According to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, an average of 45 million pounds of blue crab are harvested in Louisiana each year.  The fishery is typically open year-round with no commercial catch limits or limit on the number of commercial traps.  Size limit for blue crab is 5 inches from point to point of upper shell, unless premolt and held in a separate container.  Additionally, there is a ban on the commercial harvest of immature female blue crabs, unless they are pre-molt being held for the making of softshell crab (through 2019).  No more than 2% of random sample of 50 crabs in possession may be either egg bearing crabs, or immature female crabs. Currently, blue crabs can be legally harvested using a crab drop net, trawl, skimmer net, and most commonly, crab traps."

(Source: TIPA)

Environmental Protection Agency - SEP 2021

"The term “biodegradable” when used for marketing purposes includes a time component regarding the length of time it takes for the plastic to fully degrade. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides”: “It is deceptive to make an unqualified degradable claim for items entering the solid waste stream if the items do not completely decompose within one year after customary disposal. Unqualified degradable claims for items that are customarily disposed in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities are deceptive because these locations do not present conditions in which complete decomposition will occur within one year"

Marine Debris (Source: NOAA)

National Geographic - JUl 2019

"The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California."

Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (Source: NOAA)

NOAA - Feb 2021

"Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, tsunamis, and landslides have the potential to generate a tremendous amount of marine debris. The high winds, heavy rains, storm surge, and flooding associated with these disasters can pull large structures, household articles, and outdoor items into surrounding waters."

How Trash Gets Into Creeks (Source:The Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program)

Environmental Protection Agency - NOV 2021

"EPA’s Trash Free Waters (TFW) program refers to the garbage polluting U.S. rivers, lakes, streams, and creeks as “aquatic trash.” Most of the garbage that ends up in waterways comes from land-based activities.

Garbage can easily become aquatic trash if it is not properly disposed of or securely contained. When garbage is littered on the ground rather than placed in a recycle, compost, or trash bin, rain and wind often carries it into storm drains, streams, canals, and rivers. For example, a cigarette butt tossed on the ground might wash into a storm drain and travel through the stormwater system, which in some cases, leads directly into waterways. Cigarette butts contain plastic that will remain in the environment for many years."

Scuba Diver finds bicycle (Source: Rutger Geerling, Myshot)

National Geographic - Jan 2011

"Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, or other large bodies of water.

This manmade debris gets into the water in many ways. People often leave trash on beaches or throw it into the water from boats or offshore facilities, such as oil rigs. Sometimes, litter makes its way into the ocean from land. This debris is carried by storm drains, canals, or rivers. The wind can even blow trash from landfills and other areas into the water. Storms and accidents at sea can cause ships to sink or to lose cargo."

Debris Free Oceans Logo (Source: DFO)

Debris Free Oceans - 2021

"Our oceans are polluted with a wide variety of marine debris, ranging from tiny cigarette butts and plastic bags to 4,000-pound derelict fishing nets and abandoned vessels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines marine debris as any “persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. Trash and debris along the coasts of the United States mainly comes from littering or mass dumping. It washes down storm drains, through our waterways and ultimately into the sea.”

Plastic caught during the System 001/B mission (Source: The Ocean Cleanup)

The Ocean Cleanup - Jun 2021

"Plastic in our oceans has clear detriments to the ecosystems inhabiting them; nearly 700 marine species are reported to have encountered plastic debris, which can lead to entanglement, ingestion, or death. Protecting marine life from further harm caused by plastic pollution is the main driver behind our mission to rid the oceans of plastic. At the same time, we need to ensure that our cleanup operations have minimal negative side effects on marine ecosystems. This is why we not only closely monitor and study the interactions between our technology and the environment, but also invest in fundamental research to better understand the ecosystems we are determined to protect."

A dolphin with a plastic bag trailing from its fin swims in the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago in Brazil (Source: João Vianna)

The Pew Charitable Trusts - Sep 2018

"Our ocean and the array of species that call it home are succumbing to the poison of plastic. Examples abound, from the gray whale that died after stranding near Seattle in 2010 with more than 20 plastic bags, a golf ball, and other rubbish in its stomach to the harbor seal pup found dead on the Scottish island of Skye, its intestines fouled by a small piece of plastic wrapper. According to the United Nations, at least 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris, and as much as 80 percent of that litter is plastic. It is estimated that up to 13 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year—the equivalent of a rubbish or garbage truck load’s worth every minute."

Loggerhead turtle (Source: Loggerhead Marine Center)

Loggerhead Marinelife Center - Nov 2016

"Many people are familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large mass of plastics floating in the North Pacific that stretches as wide as the state of Texas. The reason for this accumulation? The North Pacific Gyre, formed by four prevailing ocean currents in the northern Pacific, continuously rotates at a clockwise pattern, keeping the debris in one large mass. Less noticed, however, is the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. This garbage patch sits hundreds of miles offshore of the southeastern United States and is about the same size as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

The Makah Tribe removes Derelict Crabs Pots (Source: Makah Tribe)

NOAA - Nov 2021

"Native Americans have lived on these lands since time immemorial. Their roots are deeply embedded in the land, waters, and genealogy of this place. During National Native American Heritage Month we celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples, their important history, present perseverance, and future. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to work with indigenous communities in stewardship efforts that help to understand and reduce the impacts of marine debris."

Floater From The Ocean Cleanup (Source: The Ocean Cleanup)

Forbes - Sep 2018

"Ambitious dreams have now become a reality as the Ocean Cleanup deploys its $20 million system designed to clean up the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Check out another Forbes piece on how Ocean Cleanup aims to reuse and recycle the ocean plastic.

The floating boom system was deployed on Saturday from San Francisco Bay and will undergo several weeks of testing before being hauled into action. The system was designed by the nonprofit Ocean Cleanup, which was founded in 2013 by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat."

Garbage Patches (Source: NOAA)

NOAA - DEC 2021

"Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, or other large bodies of water.

This manmade debris gets into the water in many ways. People often leave trash on beaches or throw it into the water from boats or offshore facilities, such as oil rigs. Sometimes, litter makes its way into the ocean from land. This debris is carried by storm drains, canals, or rivers. The wind can even blow trash from landfills and other areas into the water. Storms and accidents at sea can cause ships to sink or to lose cargo."

Scholarly Research

Marine Pollution Bulletin - 2019

"In recent decades, the topic of marine debris has gained recognition
as a significant global ecological and economic problem. As the amount
of debris in our oceans grows, the frequency of research and monitoring
to understand its sources, concentrations, and impacts also increases. As
the frequency of studies grow, the evidence and understanding of the
negative effects of marine debris does as well (Rochman et al., 2016).
Debris has been documented to have a range of effects from individual
organisms with ingestion and entanglement (Gall and Thompson,
2015), up to entire habitats and ecosystems."

Springer Open Logo (Source: Springer Open)

Springer Open - APR 2018

"Persistent plastics, with an estimated lifetime for degradation of hundreds of years in marine conditions, can break up into micro- and nanoplastics over shorter timescales, thus facilitating their uptake by marine biota throughout the food chain. These polymers may contain chemical additives and contaminants, including some known endocrine disruptors that may be harmful at extremely low concentrations for marine biota, thus posing potential risks to marine ecosystems, biodiversity and food availability."

Methodologies used to classify marine litter (Source: Journal of Coastal Research)

Journal of Coastal Research - May 2019

"Marine litter can be defined as all persistent, manufactured, or processed solid material disposed of or abandoned over coastal and marine environments (Bergmann et al., 2015; Coe and Rogers, 1996; Tudor and Williams, 2018). Marine litter is an issue that affects coastal areas and sea-floors worldwide. Its impact is of global significance, and the threats posed by marine litter to humans and the environment have been recognized for around 58 years (Ryan, 2015). However, despite its importance, it has only gained real recognition during the past few years."

Comparison of Binary and Multiclass Debris Detectors (Source: Heriot-Watt University)

Heriot-Watt University - DEC 2016

"Man-made pollution in oceans, rivers and lakes is a well known problem created by our modern way of life. People regularly produce waste that for different reasons ends up contaminating our water sources [1]. For example, street garbage might be blown by the wind or directly dropped into beaches and rivers (Fig .1). This kind of pollution reduces the income of populations that depend on fishing or tourism [2], and cleaning up garbage is of clear humanitarian interest."

Conditions and concentrations of floating plastic debris in the Arctic Ocean (Source: Science Advances)

Science Advances - Apr 2017

"The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accumulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas."


Organisms Caught In Derelict Crab Traps (Source: Pontchartrain Conservancy)

Pontchartrain Conservancy - Dec 2020

"In Louisiana, commercial crabbers can fish with an unlimited number of crab traps, and the number of traps they use is not reported. Therefore, the number of traps becoming derelict is unknown, but can be estimated. The Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program (DCTP) was initiated in 2004 by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) to remove derelict traps and to reduce their negative environmental and economic impacts. Since beginning the program, LDWF and volunteers have removed 45,333 derelict traps from coastal Louisiana. Pontchartrain Conservancy (PC) involvement with the program began in 2016 and has resulted in the removal of more than 13,000 derelict traps from the Pontchartrain Basin."

An example of a microplastic. (Source: NOAA)

NOAA Marine Debris Program - Ongoing

"Microplastics are tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter. In the last four decades, concentrations of these particles appear to have increased significantly in the surface waters of the ocean. Concern about the potential impact of microplastics in the marine environment has gathered momentum during the past few years. The number of scientific investigations has increased, along with public interest and pressure on decision- makers to respond."

Microplastics (Source: EPA)

Environmental Protection Agency - Jun 2017

"Plastics pollution has raised concern worldwide, with a recent study estimating that 8 million metric tons of plastics was released into the world’s oceans in 2010 (Jambeck et al. 2015). Freshwater and terrestrial systems are also affected by plastics pollution, and research over the past few decades has shown that plastic items such as derelict fishing gear and plastic grocery bags can have detrimental effects on wildlife via entanglement and ingestion (reviewed by Browne et al. 2015; Provencher et al. 2017). More recently, studies conducted around the world have shown that microplastics, plastic particles <5 mm in size in any one dimension (Arthur et al. 2009), are widespread in marine and freshwaters, and may also have negative ecological impacts (GESAMP 2015; 2016)."

Plastic Pollution (Source: WWF)

World Wide Fund - Jun 2019

"Increasing plastic use and limited recycling results in towering plastic production. Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature. The production of virgin plastic has increased 200-fold since 1950 and has grown at a rate of 4 per cent a year since 2000. If all predicted plastic production capacity is reached, current production could increase by 40 per cent by 2030. As of today, a third of plastic waste ends up in nature, accounting for 100 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2016. Plastic is used as a disposable material, to such an extent that over 75% of all plastic ever produced is waste."

Microplastics (Source: GESAMP)

GESAMP - 2020

"Society has used the ocean as a convenient place to dispose of unwanted materials and waste products for many centuries, either directly or indirectly via rivers. The volume of material increased with a growing population and an increasingly industrialized society. The demand for manufactured goods and packaging, to contain or protect food and goods, increased throughout the twentieth century. Large-scale production of plastics began in the 1950s and plastics have become widespread, used in a bewildering variety of applications. The many favourable properties of plastics, including durability and low cost, make plastics the obvious choice in many situations."

Marine Debris (Source: NOAA)

Environmental Protection Agency - Dec 2016

"The purpose of this report is to synthesize the state of the science on the potential chemical toxicity of ingested plastic and associated chemicals on aquatic organisms and aquatic-dependent wildlife. The focus of this document is primarily on marine systems, with data provided on the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems, where available. Since mass-production of plastics began in the 1940s and 1950s, the amount of plastic debris entering marine and freshwater ecosystems has increased by several orders of magnitude (Cole et al., 2011). However, recently the accumulation and potential impacts of plastic pollution has been recognized as an emerging environmental issue (GESAMP 2015; UNEP 2016)."

Debris under the water (Source: ICC)

International Coastal Cleanup - Jun 2021

"Planning an International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) event takes dedication and effort in the best of times. But the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented hurdles for even the most seasoned coordinators and volunteers. By March 2020, it became apparent that all of us would have to make changes in our daily lives to stay safe. Ocean Conservancy adapted by developing guidelines for conducting cleanups that keep volunteers safely distanced and employ extra precautions for good hygiene. We also added a new category of debris for volunteers to track during ICC events and on the Clean Swell© app—Personal Protective Equipment or PPE. And we worked to support ICC coordinators and volunteers on the ground who were able to conduct cleanups safely during the pandemic."