Coastal Issues | Marine Debris

Marine Debris

Unalaska, AK,

In remote coastal areas, such as Unalaska, AK, marine debris that has washed ashore needs to be removed by boat.

Marine debris is a persistent and often overlooked coastal management issue with wide-ranging impacts. 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. It may enter directly at sea from a platform or ship, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Types of marine debris include derelict fishing gear, derelict vessels, and an assortment of domestic and industrial waste products. Marine debris is a significant problem facing all coastal communities. Marine debris threatens sensitive ocean and coastal habitats, important marine organisms such as marine mammals, fish, and seabirds, human health and safety, navigation, and tourism.

Efforts to address marine debris began in the 1970s, but there has been a renewed interest in marine debris since it was identified as a significant issue in the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s 2004 Report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century (see Chapter 18). Recognizing the need for a centralized marine debris program within NOAA, Congress appropriated funds in 2005 and 2006 to establish the NOAA Marine Debris Program. This program is undertaking national and international efforts focusing on identifying, removing, reducing, and preventing debris in the marine environment. The NOAA Marine Debris Program coordinates with several NOAA offices, including the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM).

In Depth: "What is marine debris?"

What Types of Projects and Programs Have Been Developed to Address Marine Debris?

Marine debris programs vary widely to address different types of marine debris, and different environments where marine debris is a problem. Some examples of marine debris programs developed in the states include:

  • Coastal and coral reef clean-ups;
  • Adopt-A-Beach programs;
  • Coordination with Clean Marina Programs;
  • Establishing disposal and recycling containers in recreation areas (beaches, waterfronts, piers);
  • Derelict vessel removal;
  • Developing school lesson plans or curricula;
  • Education, outreach, public awareness initiatives/campaigns;
  • Distributing pocket cigarette ashtrays;
  • Regional coordination and management efforts; and
  • Derelict fishing gear removal.


NOAA Marine Debris Program — The website provides background information on NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, lists funding opportunities to support activities that will prevent or remove marine debris, or increase public awareness and publications related to marine debris.

Environmental Protection Agency — The website includes additional information on marine debris, its impacts and what is being done to reduce marine debris.

The Ocean Conservancy — The website provides additional information on marine debris, including the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Clean-Up and regular beach monitoring programs.

"An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century," Final Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy

Includes Chapter 18: Reducing Marine Debris

Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act — The Act legally establishes the NOAA Marine Debris Program and sets a $10M authorization to implement the program. The Act also establishes the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee which NOAA co-chairs.

Full text of Act


For additional information, contact Kris Wall.