What is Marine Debris?

Marine debris is defined 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 is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy, and potentially human safety and health.

Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s ocean and waterways. Most of all, all marine debris comes from people, making marine debris a preventable problem. 

What are the impacts of marine debris?

Economic Loss. Marine debris degrades the beauty of coastal environments and, in many cases, may cause economic loss if an area is a popular tourist destination. And coastal communities may not have the resources to continually clean up debris.

Habitat Damage. Marine debris can scour, break, smother, and otherwise damage important marine habitat, such as coral reefs. Many of these habitats serve as the basis of marine ecosystems and are critical to the survival of many other species.

Wildlife Entanglement and Ghost Fishing. Derelict nets, ropes, line, or other fishing gear, packing bands, rubber bands, balloon string, six-pack rings, and more can wrap around marine life. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death.

Ingestion. Many animals, such as sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, can ingest marine debris, which may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death.

Vessel Hazards. Marine debris can be large and hard to see if it’s below the ocean’s surface. Encounters with debris can result in costly vessel damage, either to its structure or through a tangled propeller or clogged intake.

Alien Species Transport. If a marine organism attaches to debris, it can travel hundreds of miles and land on a non-native shoreline. Invasive species can have devastating impacts on fisheries and local ecosystems.