New Marine Debris Tool Maps Response Projects on Great Lakes, Ocean Junk

Marine debris washed up on shore. Credit: NOAA.

Marine debris washed up on shore. Credit: NOAA.

Thanks to the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Marine Debris Clearinghouse, researchers and workers trying to reduce marine debris now have an effective tool to catalogue and share information. With its extensive search functions covering a variety of parameters, the Clearinghouse will allow researchers to find the information that is most applicable to their project.

According to Peter Murphy of the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), the Clearinghouse will be an important facilitator of marine debris work worldwide. “We want to help people gain access to that body of work by being able to find information on projects that might be applicable to their interests, whether that’s by searching by region, by habitat, by year, or by species,” Murphy tells Earthzine.

In its initial phase, the Clearinghouse holds records of past, ongoing, and future MDP-funded marine debris projects, according to a post on the MDP blog. The database primarily catalogues projects that focus on removal, research, and outreach. According to Murphy, plans are in place to expand the scope of the site’s information. “The site is in its initial version now, but over time we hope to continue to develop it to include more information from across the community, including existing legislation, action plans, and topic papers that synthesize the state of knowledge on a given topic within the overall issue of marine debris.”

The Marine Debris Clearinghouse offers two ways for users to find marine debris projects: the explore tab is a more traditional search function, where users can narrow down results by date, location, keyword, or type of project. The visualize tab takes users to a Google-maps based list of marine debris projects with color-coded virtual pushpins to denote the type of project. A timeline of marine debris projects is available under the visualize section, along with tables detailing each project’s goals and information.

Old fishing nets can trap many species, like this sea turtle. Credit:

Old fishing nets can trap many species, like this sea turtle. Credit: Ocean Conservancy.

According to Murphy, debris such as fishing nets and crab pots can trap marine wildlife. “Smaller pieces of debris can be ingested by fish and sea birds,” said Murphy. “Large debris—such as derelict vessels—can scour and degrade habitat on beaches and reefs.”

MDP considers marine debris to be “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.” However, precise figures about the amount of marine debris entering the oceans and Great Lakes are lacking. “It is very difficult to know how much debris goes into the ocean every year, but we know that significant amounts are lost and that the impacts are as varied as the types of debris,” said Murphy.

The Clearinghouse is one piece in MDP’s mission to reduce marine debris. “Even though the scale of debris can be overwhelming, it’s a solvable problem,” said Murphy. “Humans are the source of debris, and we can be the solution by changing our behaviors to prevent debris getting into the ocean, and removing the debris that is already there.”