Marine Debris Prevention

Three people in foul weather gear are on the deck of a boat, handling a large piece of derelict fishing gear that was retrieved from the water with a crane. The derelict fishing gear is covered in algae and other marine life. A fourth person is on the side filming the catch.
Derelict fishing gear, such as lost or abandoned nets, lines, crab/shrimp pots, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment, poses a threat to a wide variety of animals and can be a hazard to navigation. Photo: NOAA

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, working closely with tribal and state representatives on the Intergovernmental Policy Council and a Sanctuary Advisory Council working group, designated Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary as a sentinel site for ocean acidification in November 2019.

Marine debris is any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material disposed of or abandoned, intentionally or unintentionally, into the marine environment. It is most visible as litter—plastic bottles and caps, rope, broken bits of plastic—that lines coastal beaches. Marine debris breaks down to become very small microplastics that can be found throughout the water column and washed ashore. Larger and heavier items, such as derelict fishing gear, end up on the seafloor.

Marine debris is a global problem that threatens the ocean and coasts, marine life, our economy, safe navigation, and human health and safety. Although marine debris is found worldwide, each of us can all help with small actions. Reduce your use of plastics and food packaging, reuse containers, recycle and dispose of waste in an appropriate manner. On your next beach walk, carry some beach litter back for appropriate disposal or join an organized beach cleanup to enjoy the group stewardship energy!

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has worked with citizen science volunteers since 2001 to identify, and quantify types of marine debris found along various segments of shoreline bordering the sanctuary. During periodic surveys, volunteers have removed nearly 70,000 pieces of marine debris from the Olympic Coast coastline!

A person uses their hands to show a big pile of netting that is entangled with kelp on the beach. On top of the pile is a chalkboard ruler.
COASST volunteers conduct monthly surveys to collect data on marine debris. Photo: NOAA

The sanctuary is also a founding partner of the Washington Clean Coast Alliance that sponsors the Washington CoastSavers program. Washington CoastSavers organizes volunteers for beach cleanups occurring throughout the year along shores between the Columbia River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

A man with a large framed backpack filled with trash stands on the beach next to a pile of filled trash bags and other marine debris. In the background there are ocean waves, as well as sea stacks in the distance.
Washington Coast Cleanup occurs each year on Earth Day weekend (near April 22), when hundreds of volunteers come to remove the plastics and other debris and restore the natural beauty of our coastal shores. Photo: NOAA

Additionally, NOAA's Marine Debris Program supports national and international efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris. This program serves as a centralized capability within NOAA, coordinating and supporting activities within NOAA and with other federal agencies, as well as using partnerships to support projects carried out by state and local agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, academia, and industry.

Styrofoam, plastic bottles, fishing rope, tubes, and other plastic pieces - some as big as a trash can and others as small as a bottle cap - cover a sandy beach..
Plastics are the most common form of marine debris. They can come from a variety of land and ocean-based sources. Photo: NOAA

The earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011 was followed by a tsunami, which carried many tons of debris into the ocean, including a Japanese dock that beached in a remote location of Olympic National Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

A large weathered dock is aground on a sandy wilderness beach.
A 185 ton dock (65 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 7.5 feet tall) was washed out to sea during the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. On December 18, 2012, it beached along the boundaries of Olympic National Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: NOAA

Between 2012 and 2019, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA's Marine Debris Program partnered in the Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP) to engage citizen science volunteers in identifying the types and quantities of shoreline marine debris at 26 locations adjacent to the sanctuary along the western or outer coast of Washington state and the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula and southern shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Data was gathered to identify whether marine debris loads were noticeably higher as a result of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Over the seven-year period of marine debris monitoring in the sanctuary, 61,449 pieces of debris were collected and recorded in the MDMAP database. Only a small portion of the debris was attributable to the tsunami. The most frequently found items were plastic.

Get Involved!

People dragging debris

Washington CoastSavers

Join hundreds of volunteers in organized beach cleanups throughout the year

Trash litter

Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP)

Survey and record the amount and types of marine debris on shorelines.

A collectiong of debris at beach clean up

Marine Debris COASST

Conduct monthly marine debris surveys with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Study Team (COASST).