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Marine Debris

Sea Grant works closely with communities nationwide and in partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to address marine debris challenges in marine, coastal and Great Lakes environments. Through research, extension and education, Sea Grant informs and enhances strategies to prevent the creation of marine debris and remove marine debris from the environment.

Photo Credit: Oregon Sea Grant A picture of a shark sculpture created using found marine debris and on display in Oregon.

What is Marine Debris?

As one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s ocean and waterways, our waters are filled with marine debris, items that do not belong in it. Marine debris includes any manufactured or processed solid material that is directly, indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment or the Great Lakes.

How is marine debris harmful?

When marine debris is in our waters and on our shores, beaches and public recreation areas are impacted, affecting ecotourism and local economies. The Great Lakes economy relies heavily on tourism and recreation by maintaining healthy coastal resources while keeping the environment clean. Beach-goers and visitors can be impacted by marine debris as well as these items can cause physical bodily harm if found on shorelines or in the water. Human consumption of marine debris is also possible if small particles are accidentally ingested, however potential health risks from different plastics and chemicals are still unknown.

What can we do to mitigate the impacts of marine debris?

Being aware of how to properly dispose of fishing line and garbage can greatly reduce impacts to marine ecosystems. Beach cleanups are another great way to combat shoreline trash while collectively working together to reduce debris in public areas. Reducing reliability on single-use plastics can also greatly reduce the amount of marine debris entering our waterways and marine ecosystems. Read more about how to help at NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

Sea Grant Marine Debris Symposium

Sea Grant’s Annual Marine Debris Symposium brings together grantees, researchers, community members, and other partners to share updates on Marine Debris Challenge and Community Action Coalitions Competition projects, discuss marine debris prevention and removal, and create a network of peer support for current and future work. The 2024 Sea Grant Marine Debris Symposium will take place in person on November 12th-14th in Silver Spring, MD with options for virtual attendance. Stay tuned for more details, including speakers, session topics and registration information.

Watch the videos from previous meetings below to learn more about Sea Grant’s work in marine debris.

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