Marine debris, the silent killer of the ocean

As a mission of NASGA, we work to assist other non-profit organizations to protect and restore the nations shorelines and waterways.  Recent studies have shown that although progress is being made, there is still so much to be done.

Our beaches and waterways are littered with “stuff” that doesn’t belong in them. Marine debris comes in many forms, ranging from small plastic cigarette butts toMarine debris from underwater
4,000-pound derelict fishing nets. Plastic bags, glass, metal, Styrofoam, tires, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned vessels are all examples of debris that often ends up in our waterways.


How is the United States trying to help clean up the oceans, waterways and beaches we all love?

Marine Debris Poster (4) AI9 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has monitored marine debris since the Marine Debris Act was signed by Congress in 2006, and started the Marine Debris Program.  Marine debris, known as flotsam and jetsam, follows the oceans movement, through currents, following tides and eventually makes landfall.

One of the main types of marine debris that you hear about today is plastic marine debris. In many places, it is the main type of debris that you will see as you walk along a beach.   As common as they are on our beaches and in our homes, how much do you really know about plastics?

As society has developed new uses for plastics, the variety and quantity of plastic items found in the marine environment has increased dramatically.  Plastics can enter into the marine environment a number of ways: through ineffective or improper waste management, intentional or accidental dumping and littering on shorelines or at sea, or through storm water runoff. Eventually, these plastics will degrade into smaller and smaller pieces.

Plastics are used in many aspects of daily life and are a big part of our waste stream. Many plastics are colorful and will float in water, which makes plastic debris a very visible part of the marine debris problem. However, an accurate estimate does not yet exist for how much debris is composed of plastic materials.

Coral is the rainforest of the sea, and marine debris, especially large and heavy debris, can crush and damage coral. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which has one of the healthiest and least disturbed coral reef ecosystems in the United States,has an estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing nets accumulate every year.


FfE-LogoThe nets that drift there can be enormous, and when tangled together, weigh hundreds of pounds! Commercial or recreational fishers have been helping corals out by disposing of unwanted fishing gear through programs, such as National Fish and Wildlife Foundations Fishing for Energy.


NOAA recently published the Ten Things You Should Know About Marine Debris, that is not only informative, but also makes one think of ways to personally make a change to help the shorelines and marine environment.

A 3D rendering of the ocean cleanup array, a special device that 19-year old Dutch student, Boyan Slat, believes could clean up the world’s oceans, all while keeping plankton and fish safe from harm.

There have been many new inventive ideas, many from high school and college students, whom study Oceanography, Marine Technology and the like.  A few of these new inventions are being tested all around the world, with results that are hoping to help reduce the steady flow of debris floating around the Earth’s oceans. One of these new inventions is the The Ocean Clean Up, a spacecraft looking marine craft, motoring along the water collecting the debris.  The brainchild of a Aerospace Engineer student, Boyan Slat, the 19 year old wrote about his invention for a school paper in 2012, which won many accolades.  Boyan hopes his invention, which would cost about $30 million a year to operate, could remove 50 years worth of the ocean’s debris within 10 years.  Can it be done?  We certainly hope so!  Boyan is raising money to start the operation, and of this posting, has made the $2 million dollar goal, and will soon begin to make his dream a reality.  Although not a non-profit, his innovations will surely change the way we clean up our oceans.

So how can we, the beachcombing sea glass collectors help?  For starters, we can start at home.  If we reuse more, recycle more, and waste less, the amount of our trash making it to our oceans and waterways will decrease.

Another easy thing we can all do is to bring a separate bag for beach trash when we go hunting for sea glass!   Sounds easy enough, but do you do it?  We’d like to propose to all beachcombers everywhere to grab a bag before you go, and as you hunt for treasure, pick up the trash along the way.  Not only will it make us feel good for helping the environment, it’s a great workout (think of all those squats!) and it will also help fulfill our mission to restore the shorelines.

Lastly, join your local area beach clean-ups, there are many local, regional and national programs to help get your started!   Did you know that National Coastal Clean Up Day is the third Saturday in September every year?

As we start our new year, let’s make strides to help the environment every day, and don’t forget to mark your calendar, September 19, 2015 for next year’s Coastal Clean Up Day!