Marine Debris


NOAA Marine Debris Program

Marine Debris is More than an Eyesore


NOAA National Ocean Service

NOAA Marine Debris Program

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NARRATOR: Marine debris has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world's ocean and waterways. Just what exactly is marine debris?

It is any manufactured solid material that enters into the marine environment whether intentionally or unintentionally. Most people think marine debris is the trash that washes up on the beach, but that's just the debris that you can see.

Marine debris is also submerged. It's floating around in the ocean. Large pieces of concrete, fishing nets and floats, plastic containers and other household items are commonly found. Out at sea, marine debris can be generated from large industrial cargo ships and fishing vessels.

Lost fishing nets and gear can cause a lot of damage. Nets smother and block out the necessary light that habitats like coral reefs need to survive. And when fishing gear falls on top of coral and other fragile habitats, it can harm and even kill them.

Derelict or ghost traps are fishing traps that have been lost or abandoned under the water. These traps will continue to fish for crabs and other animals, but because no one is there to collect the traps, the animals in them may eventually die.

Marine debris is also created by the individual person on land. When a person litters or fails to recycle, a lot of times his or her trash ends up in a stream, waterway, or storm drain. The trash is then carried out to rivers and eventually carried out to the ocean.

When debris is floating in the ocean it is often mistaken for food by marine mammals and sea turtles. Whether it's a plastic bag that looks like a jellyfish or shiny pieces of plastic that resemble fish - animals will go after this and eat it. Eventually their stomachs will become full of plastic. They won't feel hungry and they won't find the need to eat and may starve.

To some degree, we are all responsible for this problem because we like to eat fish and we're not always careful with our trash. NOAA and the fishing industry are working together to prevent marine debris from happening in the first place.

But there are things that you can do to help stop it. You can do the three R's. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. And you can volunteer to participate in your local beach, street, or community clean up. It's very easy to do and it goes a long way towards preventing marine debris.