WHAT IS MARINE DEBRIS?
Marine debris can include balloons, plastic bags, food and drink containers, lost crab pots, oyster bags and cages, fishing line and nets, and any other kind of persistent solid material that is intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment. So basically, any trash that that ends up in the water!
Where does marine debris come from? "As much as 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources such as plastic bags and food containers. Abandoned or derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other water-based sources also significantly contribute to the problem" - Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program
Land sources ...
A large amount of marine debris is litter tossed along roadsides or illegal dumping on property which is then washed into creeks and rivers that flow into larger bodies of water during rainstorms or high tides. Beverage and food containers, plastic straws, cigarette butts, and other trash all make their way into our streams and waterways during storms. Light items like plastic grocery bags and balloons can travel for miles in the air before landing in waterways.
Water sources ...
Some debris items don’t have to travel far from their source to become a problem: water-based sources of marine debris include derelict vessels, and fishing gear such as nets, crab pots, and fishing line. Products used for shellfish aquaculture can become marine debris if they are washed out during storms or discarded, such as clam netting, oyster bags, floats, and cages. Trash is also intentionally or accidentally released by recreational boaters, cruise ships, merchant vessels, and military ships.
Shoreline sources ...
At the land-water interface, deteriorating shoreline structures can break apart and become marine debris, such as old piers, wharves, and bulkheads. Some of these old structures were constructed many years ago with creosote and arsenic treated lumber. Legal at the time, these materials contain toxic chemicals to prevent decay and prolong their life expectancy.
Is marine debris really a problem? Yes! Marine debris is a global problem that injures and kills marine life, interferes with navigational safety, causes economic losses to fishing and coastal industries, and poses a threat to human health. "Up to 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, threatening marine life and polluting shorelines. That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck emptying its rubbish into the sea every minute." - The PEW Charitable Trusts
See examples ...
Wildlife entanglement and ghost fishing:
- Debris items mistaken for food (including microplastics)
- Debris attached to natural prey items and ingested
- Young osprey entangles in nest debris
- Derelict fishing gear, balloon ribbons, wrapped around marine mammals, birds and sea turtles
- Lost or abandoned nets and traps that continue to catch and kill animals (bycatch)
Vessel damage and navigation hazards:
- Smothering of wetland vegetation by bulkhead debris
- Bottom scour by heavy derelict fishing gear
- Entanglement and crushing of deep-sea corals
- Direct strikes
- Propeller entanglement
- Clogged intakes
Alien species transport:
- Seafood trapped and killed by derelict fishing gear
- Lost crab traps attracting crabs from active traps
- Littered beaches are less attractive for tourism
- Litter removal and beach sweeping costs
- Non-native species attached to debris and moved beyond natural range
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are nearly invisible, tiny pieces of plastic - so small that at less than 5 millimeters in length, they slip through wastewater treatment filtering screens. Once in our waterways they can be eaten by small animals and work their way up the food chain. Microplastics come from ...
- microbeads which are used as exfoliants in toothpaste, cosmetics, suncare, skincare, and household cleanser products that get rinsed down drains (being phased out in the U.S. since the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015);
- the breaking up and fracturing of larger plastic debris (like cigarette filters, straws, bags and bottles), over months or years, until they are tiny pieces;
- and largely from microfibers that are released from clothing while doing the laundry that eventually enter our waterways.
Find out more ...