Marine debris

Marine debris, also known as marine litter, is human-created waste that has deliberately or accidentally been released in a lake, sea, ocean, or waterway. Floating oceanic debris tends to accumulate at the center of gyres and on coastlines,[1] frequently washing aground, when it is known as beach litter or tidewrack. Deliberate disposal of wastes at sea is called ocean dumping. Naturally occurring debris, such as driftwood, are also present.

With the increasing use of plastic, human influence has become an issue as many types of (petrochemical) plastics do not biodegrade.[2]Waterborne plastic poses a serious threat to fish, seabirds, marine reptiles, and marine mammals, as well as to boats and coasts.[3] Dumping, container spillages, litter washed into storm drains and waterways and wind-blown landfill waste all contribute to this problem.

In efforts to prevent and mediate marine debris and pollutants, laws and policies have been adopted internationally. Depending on relevance to the issues and various levels of contribution, some countries have introduced more specified protection policies.

Marine debris on Hawaiian coast
Marine debris on the Hawaiian coast

Types of debris

Beach at Msasani Bay, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Debris on beach near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Flostam tern island
Debris collected from beaches on Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals over one month.

Researchers classify debris as either land- or ocean-based; in 1991, the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution estimated that up to 80% of the pollution was land-based,[4] with the remaining 20% originating from catastrophic events or maritime sources.[5] More recent studies have found that more than half of plastic debris found on Korean shores is ocean-based.[6]

A wide variety of man-made objects can become marine debris; plastic bags, balloons, buoys, rope, medical waste, glass and plastic bottles, cigarette stubs, cigarette lighters, beverage cans, polystyrene, lost fishing line and nets, and various wastes from cruise ships and oil rigs are among the items commonly found to have washed ashore. Six pack rings, in particular, are considered emblematic of the problem.[7]

The US military used ocean dumping for unused weapons and bombs, including ordinary bombs, UXO, landmines and chemical weapons from at least 1919 until 1970.[8] Millions of pounds of ordnance were disposed of in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of at least 16 states, from New Jersey to Hawaii (although these, of course, do not wash up onshore, and the US is not the only country who has practiced this).[9]

Eighty percent of marine debris is plastic.[10] Plastics accumulate because they typically do not biodegrade as many other substances do. They photodegrade on exposure to sunlight, although they do so only under dry conditions, as water inhibits photolysis.[11] In a 2014 study using computer models, scientists from the group 5 Gyres, estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 269,000 tons were dispersed in oceans in similar amount in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.[12]

Ghost nets

Turtle entangled in marine debris (ghost net)
A turtle trapped in a ghost net, an abandoned fishing net

Fishing nets left or lost in the ocean by fishermen – ghost nets – can entangle fish, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, dugongs, crocodiles, seabirds, crabs, and other creatures. These nets restrict movement, causing starvation, laceration and infection, and, in animals that breathe air, suffocation.[13]


8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped in the world's oceans each year. Asia was the leading source of mismanaged plastic waste, with China alone accounting for 2.4 million metric tons.[14][15]

Plastic waste has reached all the world's oceans. This plastic pollution harms an estimated 100,000 sea turtles and marine mammals and 1,000,000 sea creatures each year.[16] Larger plastics (called "macroplastics") such as plastic shopping bags can clog the digestive tracts of larger animals when consumed by them[17] and can cause starvation through restricting the movement of food, or by filling the stomach and tricking the animal into thinking it is full. Microplastics on the other hand harm smaller marine life. For example, pelagic plastic pieces in the center of our ocean’s gyres outnumber live marine plankton, and are passed up the food chain to reach all marine life.[18] A 1994 study of the seabed using trawl nets in the North-Western Mediterranean around the coasts of Spain, France, and Italy reported mean concentrations of debris of 1,935 items per square kilometre. Plastic debris accounted for 77%, of which 93% was plastic bags.[17]


Nurdles 01 gentlemanrook
A handful of nurdles, spilled from a train in Pineville, Louisiana

Nurdles, also known as "mermaids' tears", are plastic pellets, typically under five millimetres in diameter, that are a major component of marine debris. They are a raw material in plastics manufacturing, and enter the natural environment when spilled. Weathering produces ever smaller pieces. Nurdles strongly resemble fish eggs.[19]

Deep-sea debris

Litter, made from diverse materials that are denser than surface water (such as glasses, metals and some plastics), have been found to spread over the floor of seas and open oceans, where it can become entangled in corals and interfere with other sea-floor life, or even become buried under sediment, making clean-up extremely difficult, especially due to the wide area of its dispersal compared to shipwrecks. Research performed by MBARI found items including plastic bags below 2000 m depth off the west coast of North America and around Hawaii.[20]

Sources of debris

Friendly Floatees
The travel of the Friendly Floatees.

The 10 largest emitters of oceanic plastic pollution worldwide are, from the most to the least, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh,[21] largely through the rivers Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai, Nile, Ganges, Pearl, Amur, Niger, and the Mekong, and accounting for "90 percent of all the plastic that reaches the world's oceans."[22][23]

An estimated 10,000 containers at sea each year are lost by container ships, usually during storms.[24] One spillage occurred in the Pacific Ocean in 1992, when thousands of rubber ducks and other toys (now known as the "Friendly Floatees") went overboard during a storm. The toys have since been found all over the world, providing a better understanding of ocean currents. Similar incidents have happened before, such as when Hansa Carrier dropped 21 containers (with one notably containing buoyant Nike shoes).[25] In 2007, MSC Napoli beached in the English Channel, dropping hundreds of containers, most of which washed up on the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site.[26]

In Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, 52% of items were generated by recreational use of an urban park, 14% from sewage disposal and only 7% from shipping and fishing activities.[27] Around four fifths[28] of oceanic debris is from rubbish blown onto the water from landfills, and urban runoff.[3]

Some studies show that marine debris may be dominant in particular locations. For example, a 2016 study of Aruba found that debris found the windward side of the island was predominantly marine debris from distant sources.[29] In 2013, debris from six beaches in Korea was collected and analyzed: 56% was found to be "ocean-based" and 44% "land-based".[30]

In the 1987 Syringe Tide, medical waste washed ashore in New Jersey after having been blown from Fresh Kills Landfill.[31][32] On the remote sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, fishing-related debris, approximately 80% plastics, are responsible for the entanglement of large numbers of Antarctic fur seals.[33]

Marine litter is even found on the floor of the Arctic ocean.[34]

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone
The currents of the North Pacific Gyre spiral inwards, depositing debris in the convergence zone.

Once waterborne, debris becomes mobile. Flotsam can be blown by the wind, or follow the flow of ocean currents, often ending up in the middle of oceanic gyres where currents are weakest. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one such example of this, comprising a vast region of the North Pacific Ocean rich with anthropogenic wastes. Estimated to be double the size of Texas, the area contains more than 3 million tons of plastic.[35]

Pacific-garbage-patch-map 2010 noaamdp
Pacific ocean currents have created 3 "islands" of debris.[36]

Patches may be large enough to be viewed by satellite. For example, when the Malaysian Flight MH370, disappeared in 2014, satellites were scanning the oceans surface for any sign of it, and instead of finding debris from the plane they came across floating garbage.[37] The gyre contains approximately six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton.[38]

The oceans may contain as much as one hundred million tons of plastic.[28] It is estimated that each garbage patch in the ocean have up to one million tons of trash swirling around in them, sometimes extending down to around one hundred feet below the surface.[39] Some items that have been extracted from these garbage patches are: a drum of hazardous chemicals, plastic hangers, tires, cable cords, a ton of tangled netting etc.

Over 40% of oceans are classified as subtropical gyres, a quarter of the planet’s surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris.

Islands situated within gyres frequently have coastlines flooded by waste that washes ashore; prime examples are Midway[40] and Hawaii.[41] Clean-up teams around the world patrol beaches to attack this environmental threat.[40]

More than 37 million pieces of plastic debris have accumulated on Henderson Island, a remote Pitcairn island in the South Pacific, reported to be the highest density of debris reported anywhere in the world, yet the trash accounts for only 1.98 seconds’ worth of the annual global production of plastic.[42]

Environmental impact

Albatross at Midway Atoll Refuge (8080507529)
The remains of an albatross containing ingested flotsam.

Many animals that live on or in the sea consume flotsam by mistake, as it often looks similar to their natural prey.[43] Bulky plastic debris may become permanently lodged in the digestive tracts of these animals, blocking the passage of food and causing death through starvation or infection.[44] Tiny floating plastic particles also resemble zooplankton, which can lead filter feeders to consume them and cause them to enter the ocean food chain. In samples taken from the North Pacific Gyre in 1999 by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the mass of plastic exceeded that of zooplankton by a factor of six.[10][45]

Toxic additives used in plastic manufacturing can leach into their surroundings when exposed to water. Waterborne hydrophobic pollutants collect and magnify on the surface of plastic debris,[28] thus making plastic more deadly in the ocean than it would be on land.[10] Hydrophobic contaminants bioaccumulate in fatty tissues, biomagnifying up the food chain and pressuring apex predators and humans.[46] Some plastic additives disrupt the endocrine system when consumed; others can suppress the immune system or decrease reproductive rates.[45]

The hydrophobic nature of plastic surfaces stimulates rapid formation of biofilms,[47] which support a wide range of metabolic activities, and drive succession of other micro- and macro-organisms.[48]

Concern among experts has grown since the 2000s that some organisms have adapted to live on[49] floating plastic debris, allowing them to disperse with ocean currents and thus potentially become invasive species in distant ecosystems.[50] Research in 2014 in the waters around Australia[47] confirmed a wealth of such colonists, even on tiny flakes, and also found thriving ocean bacteria eating into the plastic to form pits and grooves. These researchers showed that "plastic biodegradation is occurring at the sea surface" through the action of bacteria, and noted that this is congruent with a new body of research on such bacteria. Their finding is also congruent with the other major research undertaken[51] in 2014, which sought to answer the riddle of the overall lack of build up of floating plastic in the oceans, despite ongoing high levels of dumping. Plastics were found as microfibres in core samples drilled from sediments at the bottom of the deep ocean. The cause of such widespread deep sea deposition has yet to be determined.

Not all anthropogenic artifacts placed in the oceans are harmful. Iron and concrete structures typically do little damage to the environment because they generally sink to the bottom and become immobile, and at shallow depths they can even provide scaffolding for artificial reefs. Ships and subway cars have been deliberately sunk for that purpose.[52]

Additionally, hermit crabs have been known to use pieces of beach litter as a shell when they cannot find an actual seashell of the size they need.[53]

The ingestion of plastic by marine organisms has now been established at full ocean depth. Microplastic was found in the stomachs of hadal amphipods sampled from the Japan, Izu-Bonin, Mariana, Kermadec, New Hebrides and the Peru-Chile trenches. The amphipods from the Marina Trench were sampled at 10,890 m and all contained microfibres[54].

Debris removal

DC WASA Marine Debris Skimmer
Skimmer boat used to remove floating debris and trash from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers

Techniques for collecting and removing marine (or riverine) debris include the use of debris skimmer boats (pictured). Devices such as these can be used where floating debris presents a danger to navigation. For example, the US Army Corps of Engineers removes 90 tons of "drifting material" from San Francisco Bay every month. The Corps has been doing this work since 1942, when a seaplane carrying Admiral Chester W. Nimitz collided with a piece of floating debris and sank, costing the life of its pilot.[55] Once debris becomes "beach litter", collection by hand and specialized beach-cleaning machines are used to gather the debris.

Elsewhere, "trash traps" are installed on small rivers to capture waterborne debris before it reaches the sea. For example, South Australia's Adelaide operates a number of such traps, known as "trash racks" or "gross pollutant traps" on the Torrens River, which flows (during the wet season) into Gulf St Vincent.[56]

In lakes or near the coast, manual removal can also be used. Project AWARE for example promotes the idea of letting dive clubs clean up litter, for example as a diving exercise.[57]

On the sea, the removal of artificial debris (i.e. plastics) is still in its infancy. However some projects have been started which used ships with nets (Kaisei and New Horizon) to catch some plastics, primarily for research purposes. Another method to gather artificial litter has been proposed by Boyan Slat. He suggested using platforms with arms to gather the debris, situated inside the current of gyres.[58]

Another issue is that removing marine debris from our oceans can potentially cause more harm than good. Cleaning up micro-plastics could also accidentally take out plankton, which are the main lower level food group for the marine food chain and over half of the photosynthesis on earth.[37] One of the most efficient and cost effective ways to help reduce the amount of plastic entering our oceans is to not participate in using single use plastics, avoid plastic bottled drinks such as water bottles, use reusable shopping bags, and to buy products with reusable packaging.[59]

Once a year there is a diving marine debris removal operation in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, run by Ghost Fishing UK, funded by World Animal Protection and Fat Face Foundation.[60][61][62]

Laws and treaties

The ocean is a global common, so negative externalities of marine debris are not usually experienced by the producer. In the 1950s, the importance of government intervention with marine pollution protocol was recognized at the First Conference on the Law of the Sea.[63]

Ocean dumping is controlled by international law, including:

  • The London Convention (1972) – a United Nations agreement to control ocean dumping[64] This Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter consisted of twenty two articles addressing expectations of contracting parties.[65] The three annexes defined many compounds, substances, and materials that are unacceptable to deposit into the ocean.[65] Examples of such matter include: mercury compounds, lead, cyanides, and radioactive wastes.[65]
  • MARPOL 73/78 – a convention designed to minimize pollution of the seas, including dumping, oil and exhaust pollution[66] The original MARPOL convention did not consider dumping from ships, but was revised in 1978 to include restrictions on marine vessels.[67]
  • UNCLOS- signed in 1982, but effective in 1994, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea emphasized the importance of protecting the entire ocean and not only specified coastal regions.[63] UNCLOS enforced restrictions on pollution, including a stress on land-based sources.[63] Regulations imposed by this agreement have potential to help mediate effects of climate change.[68]

Australian law

One of the earliest anti-dumping laws was Australia's Beaches, Fishing Grounds and Sea Routes Protection Act 1932, which prohibited the discharge of "garbage, rubbish, ashes or organic refuse" from "any vessel in Australian waters" without prior written permission from the federal government. It also required permission for scuttling.[69] The act was passed in response to large amounts of garbage washing up on the beaches of Sydney and Newcastle from vessels outside the reach of local governments and the New South Wales government.[70] It was repealed and replaced by the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, which gave effect to the London Convention.[71]

European law

In 1972 and 1974, conventions were held in Oslo and Paris respectively, and resulted in the passing of the OSPAR Convention, an international treaty controlling marine pollution in the north-east Atlantic Ocean.[72] The Barcelona Convention protects the Mediterranean Sea. The Water Framework Directive of 2000 is a European Union directive committing EU member states to free inland and coastal waters from human influence.[73] In the United Kingdom, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is designed to "ensure clean healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas, by putting in place better systems for delivering sustainable development of marine and coastal environment".[74]

United States law

A sign above a sewer in Colorado Springs warning people to not pollute the local stream by dumping. Eighty percent of marine debris reaches the sea via rivers.

In the waters of the United States, there have been many observed consequences of pollution including: hypoxic zones, harmful agal blooms, and threatened species.[75] In 1972, the United States Congress passed the Ocean Dumping Act, giving the Environmental Protection Agency power to monitor and regulate the dumping of sewage sludge, industrial waste, radioactive waste and biohazardous materials into the nation's territorial waters.[76] The Act was amended sixteen years later to include medical wastes.[77] It is illegal to dispose of any plastic in US waters.[3]


Property law, admiralty law and the law of the sea may be of relevance when lost, mislaid, and abandoned property is found at sea. Salvage law rewards salvors for risking life and property to rescue the property of another from peril. On land the distinction between deliberate and accidental loss led to the concept of a "treasure trove". In the United Kingdom, shipwrecked goods should be reported to a Receiver of Wreck, and if identifiable, they should be returned to their rightful owner.[78]


A large number of groups and individuals are active in preventing or educating about marine debris. For example, 5 Gyres is an organization aimed at reducing plastics pollution in the oceans, and was one of two organizations that recently researched the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Heal the Bay is another organization, focusing on protecting California's Santa Monica Bay, by sponsoring beach cleanup programs along with other activities. Marina DeBris is an artist focusing most of her recent work on educating people about beach trash. Interactive sites like Adrift[79] demonstrate where marine plastic is carried, over time, on the worlds ocean currents.

On 11 April 2013 in order to create awareness, artist Maria Cristina Finucci founded The Garbage patch state at UNESCO[80] –Paris in front of Director General Irina Bokova. First of a series of events under the patronage of UNESCO and of Italian Ministry of the Environment.[81]

Forty-eight plastics manufacturers from 25 countries, are members of the Global Plastic Associations for solutions on Marine Litter, have made the pledge to help prevent marine debris and to encourage recycling.[37]


How long until it's gone
The decomposition times of marine debris

Marine debris is a problem created by all of us, not only those in coastal regions.[82] Ocean debris can come from as far away as Nebraska. The places that see the most damage are often not the places that produce the pollution. For ocean pollution, much of the trash may come from inland states, where people may never see the ocean and thus may never put any thought into protecting it. The problem continues to grow in tandem with plastics usage and disposal. Steps can be taken to prevent the movement of inland plastics into the oceans.

Plastic debris from inland states come from two main sources: ordinary litter and materials from open dumps and landfills that blow or wash away to inland waterways and wastewater outflows. The refuse finds its way from inland waterways, rivers, streams and lakes to the ocean. Though ocean and coastal area cleanups are important, it is crucial to address plastic waste that originates from inland and landlocked states.[83][84]

At the systems level, there are various ways to reduce the amount of debris entering our waterways:

  • Improve waste transportation to and from sites by utilizing closed container storage and shipping
  • Restrict open waste facilities near waterways
  • Promote the use of Refuse-derived fuels. Used plastic with low residual value often do not get recycled and are more likely to leak into the ocean.[85] However, turning these unwanted plastics that would otherwise stay in landfills into refuse-derived fuels allows for further use; they can be used as supplement fuels at power plants
  • Improve recovery rates for plastic (in 2012, the United States generated 11.46 million tons of plastic waste, of which only 6.7% was recovered[86]
  • Adapt Extended Producer Responsibility strategies to make producers responsible for product management when products and their packaging become waste; encourage reusable product design to minimize negative impacts on the environment[87]

As consumers, there are things we can do to help reduce the amount of plastic entering our waterways:[84]

7 Swaps
7 simple single-use swaps people can make to save trash.
  • Reduce usage of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, straws, water bottles, utensils and coffee cups by replacing them with reusable products such as reusable bags, metal straws, reusable water bottles, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable coffee cups
  • Avoid microbeads, which are found in face scrubs, toothpastes and body washes
  • Participate in a river or lake beach clean up
  • Support municipality bans and other legislation regulating single-use plastics and plastic waste
  • Continue to recycle, recycle, recycle

Though the awareness of inland ocean conservation debris mitigation seems to be small compared to coastal states, some organizations in the United States are already working to improve this. The Colorado Ocean Coalition was formed in 2011 with the goal of impressing upon inland citizens that they don’t need to see the ocean to care about its health. It has since grown beyond one state and now forms the Inland Ocean Coalition, with the mission of promoting knowledge and awareness of how inland states contribute to pollution of the ocean, aiming to shatter the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that often applies in this region.

“Those who live among mountains, rivers and inland cities have a direct impact on the cycle of life in the ocean,” reads the IOCO website. "The changes we need to make to address the largest threats facing our seas—lowering carbon emissions, reducing trash and pollution, eating sustainable seafood, safeguarding watersheds, promoting marine protected areas (MPAs)—can happen from anywhere in the world.”

This organization has chapters in many inland US states and promotes programs like watershed cleanups, youth-centered education, and decreasing the use of plastic.

Plastic-to-fuel conversion strategy

The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP) promotes conversion of the plastic waste into valuable liquid fuels, including gasoline, diesel and kerosene, using plastic-to-fuel conversion technology developed by Blest Co. Ltd., a Japanese environmental engineering company.[88][89][90][91] TCOP plans to educate local communities and create a financial incentive for them to recycle plastic, keep their shorelines clean, and minimize plastic waste.[89][92]

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External links

Media related to Marine debris at Wikimedia Commons


Debris (UK: , US: ) is rubble, wreckage, ruins, litter and discarded garbage/refuse/trash, scattered remains of something destroyed, discarded, or as in geology, large rock fragments left by a melting glacier etc. Depending on context, debris can refer to a number of different things. The first apparent use of the French word in English is in a 1701 description of the army of Prince Rupert upon its retreat from a battle with the army of Oliver Cromwell, in England.


Driftwood is wood that has been washed onto a shore or beach of a sea, lake, or river by the action of winds, tides or waves. It is a form of marine debris or tidewrack.

In some waterfront areas, driftwood is a major nuisance. However, the driftwood provides shelter and food for birds, fish and other aquatic species as it floats in the ocean. Gribbles, shipworms and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are reintroduced to the food web. Sometimes, the partially decomposed wood washes ashore, where it also shelters birds, plants, and other species. Driftwood can become the foundation for sand dunes.

Most driftwood is the remains of trees, in whole or part, that have been washed into the ocean, due to flooding, high winds, or other natural occurrences, or as the result of logging. There is also a subset of driftwood known as drift lumber. Drift lumber includes the remains of man-made wooden objects, such as buildings and their contents washed into the sea during storms, wooden objects discarded into the water from shore, dropped dunnage or lost cargo from ships (jetsam), and the remains of shipwrecked wooden ships and boats (flotsam). Erosion and wave action may make it difficult or impossible to determine the origin of a particular piece of driftwood.

Driftwood can be used as part of decorative furniture or other art forms, and is a popular element in the scenery of fish tanks.

Environmental impact of fishing

The environmental impact of fishing includes issues such as the availability of fish, overfishing, fisheries, and fisheries management; as well as the impact of fishing on other elements of the environment, such as by-catch. These issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. There is a growing gap between the supply of fish and demand, due in part to world population growth.The journal Science published a four-year study in November 2006, which predicted that, at prevailing trends, the world would run out of wild-caught seafood in 2048. The scientists stated that the decline was a result of overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors that were reducing the population of fisheries at the same time as their ecosystems were being annihilated. Yet again the analysis has met criticism as being fundamentally flawed, and many fishery management officials, industry representatives and scientists challenge the findings, although the debate continues. Many countries, such as Tonga, the United States, Australia and Bahamas, and international management bodies have taken steps to appropriately manage marine resources.Reefs are also being destroyed by overfishing because of the huge nets that are dragged along the ocean floor while trawling. Many corals are being destroyed and as a consequence, the ecological niche of many species is at stake.

Environmental issues in Hawaii

The majority of environmental issues affecting Hawaii today are related to pressures from increasing human and animal population and urban expansion both directly on the islands as well as overseas. These include tourism, urbanization, climate change implications, pollution, invasive species, etc.

Great Pacific garbage patch

The Great Pacific garbage patch, also described as the Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre of marine debris particles in the north central Pacific Ocean. It is located roughly from 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The collection of plastic and floating trash originates from the Pacific Rim, including countries in Asia, North America, and South America. The patch is actually "two enormous masses of ever-growing garbage". What has been referred to as the "Eastern Garbage Patch" lies between Hawaii and California, while the "Western Garbage Patch" extends eastward from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands. An ocean current about 6,000 miles long, referred to as the Subtropical Convergence Zone, connects both of the patches, which extend over an indeterminate area of widely varying range, depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area. The vortex is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, wood pulp, and other debris trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.Despite the common public perception of the patch existing as giant islands of floating rubbish, its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. This is because the patch is a widely dispersed area consisting primarily of suspended "fingernail-sized or smaller bits of plastic", often microscopic, particles in the upper water column. Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup project claimed that the patch covers 1.6 million square kilometers. The plastic concentration is estimated to be up to 100 kilograms per square kilometer in the center, going down to 10 kilograms per square kilometer in the outer parts of the patch. An estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic inhabit the patch, totaling 1.8 trillion pieces. 92% of the mass in the patch comes from objects larger than 0.5 centimeters, while 94% of the total objects are represented by microplastics.Some of the plastic in the patch has been found to be over 50 years old, and includes fragments of and items such as "plastic lighters, toothbrushes, water bottles, pens, baby bottles, cell phones, plastic bags, and nurdles". It is estimated that approximately "100 million tons of plastic are generated [globally] each year", and about 10% of that plastic ends up in the oceans. The United Nations Environmental Program recently estimated that "for every square mile of ocean", there are about "46,000 pieces of plastic". The small fibers of wood pulp found throughout the patch are "believed to originate from the thousands of tons of toilet paper flushed into the oceans daily". The patch is believed to have increased "10-fold each decade" since 1945.Research indicates that the patch is rapidly accumulating. A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean, called the North Atlantic garbage patch.

Kamilo Beach

Kamilo Beach (literally, the twisting or swirling currents in Hawaiian), is a beach located on the southeast coast of the island of Hawaii. It is known for its accumulation of plastic marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

List of environmental issues

This is an alphabetical list of environmental issues, harmful aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. They are loosely divided into causes, effects and mitigation, noting that effects are interconnected and can cause new effects.

List of waste types

Waste comes in many different forms and may be categorized in a variety of ways. The types listed here are not necessarily exclusive and there may be considerable overlap so that one waste entity may fall into one to many types.

Marine conservation activism

Marine conservation activism is the efforts of non-governmental organizations and individuals to bring about social and political change in the area of marine conservation. Marine conservation is properly conceived as a set of management strategies for the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Activists raise public awareness and support for conservation, while pushing governments and corporations to practice sound ocean management, create conservation policy, and enforce existing laws and policy through effective regulation. There are many different kinds of organizations and agencies that work toward these common goals. They all are a part of the growing movement that is ocean conservation. These organizations fight for many causes including stopping pollution, overfishing, whaling and by-catching, and supporting marine protected areas.

National Ocean Service

The National Ocean Service (NOS), an office within the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is responsible for preserving and enhancing the nation's coastal resources and ecosystems along 95,000 miles (153,000 km) of shoreline bordering 3,500,000 square miles (9,100,000 km2) of coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean waters. Its mission is to "provide science-based solutions through collaborative partnerships to address evolving economic, environmental, and social pressures on our oceans and coasts." NOS works closely with many partner agencies to ensure that ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy, and productive. National Ocean Service scientists, natural resource managers, and specialists ensure safe and efficient marine transportation, promote innovative solutions to protect coastal communities, and conserve marine and coastal places. NOS is a scientific and technical organization of 1,700 scientists, natural resource managers, and specialists in many different fields. NOS delivers a dynamic range of nationwide coastal and Great Lakes scientific, technical, and resource management services in support of safe, healthy, and productive oceans and coasts. NOS develops partnerships to integrate expertise and efforts across all levels of government and with other interests to protect, maintain, and sustain the viability of coastal communities, economies and ecosystems.

North Atlantic Gyre

The North Atlantic Gyre, located in the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the five major oceanic gyres. It is a circular system of ocean currents that stretches across the North Atlantic from near the equator almost to Iceland, and from the east coast of North America to the west coasts of Europe and Africa.

The currents that compose the North Atlantic Gyre include the Gulf Stream in the west, the North Atlantic Current in the north, the Canary Current in the east, and the Atlantic North Equatorial Current in the south. This gyre is particularly important for the central role it plays in the thermohaline circulation, bringing salty water west from the Mediterranean Sea and then north to form the North Atlantic Deep Water.

The North Atlantic Gyre traps man-made marine debris in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, similar to how the North Pacific Gyre traps debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.The North Atlantic Gyre forms the Sargasso Sea, noted for its still waters and dense seaweed accumulations.

North Atlantic garbage patch

The North Atlantic garbage patch is an area of man-made marine debris found floating within the North Atlantic Gyre, originally documented in 1972. The patch is estimated to be hundreds of kilometers across in size, with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer (one piece per five square metres, on average). The debris zone shifts by as much as 1,600 km (990 mi) north and south seasonally, and drifts even farther south during the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, according to the NOAA.

North Pacific Gyre

The North Pacific Gyre (NPG) or North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), located in the northern Pacific Ocean, is one of the five major oceanic gyres. This gyre covers most of the northern Pacific Ocean. It is the largest ecosystem on Earth, located between the equator and 50° N latitude, and comprising 20 million square kilometers.

The gyre has a clockwise circular pattern and is formed by four prevailing ocean currents: the North Pacific Current to the north, the California Current to the east, the North Equatorial Current to the south, and the Kuroshio Current to the west. It is the site of an unusually intense collection of man-made marine debris, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and the much smaller North Pacific Subpolar Gyre make up the two major gyre systems in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Pacific Ocean. This two-gyre circulation in the North Pacific is driven by the trade and westerly winds. This is one of the best examples of all of Earth’s oceans where these winds drive a two-gyre circulation. Physical characteristics like weak thermohaline circulation in the North Pacific and it is mostly blocked by land in the north, also help facilitate this circulation. As depth increases, these gyres in the North Pacific grow smaller and weaker, and the high pressure at the center of the Subtropical Gyre will migrate poleward and westward.


Nurdle may refer to:

Nurdle (bead), a pre-production microplastic pellet about the size of a pea

Plastic resin pellet pollution, nurdles as marine debris

Nurdle, a term used in cricket; see List of cricket terms

Office of Response and Restoration

The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) is a program office of the National Ocean Service and a natural resource trustee that protects the coastal environment from oil and hazardous material releases and restores damage caused by such releases.

Project AWARE

Project AWARE is a registered nonprofit organization working with volunteer scuba divers. With offices in UK, US, and Australia, Project AWARE supports divers acting in their own communities to protect the ocean, with a focus on implementing lasting change in two core areas: shark conservation and marine litter.


Rottumerplaat (Dutch pronunciation: [ˌrɔtɵmərˈplaːt]) is one of the three islands that make up Rottum in the West Frisian Islands. The island is located in the North Sea off the Dutch coast. It is situated between the islands of Schiermonnikoog and Rottumeroog.

Access to the island is prohibited since Rottumerplaat is a resting and forage area for numerous bird species. Rijkswaterstaat, Staatsbosbeheer and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality are responsible for the administration of the island. Twice a year marine debris is cleaned from the island.

Sediment deposition has caused the island to become significantly larger in recent years.

Rottumerplaat is the northernmost point of the Netherlands.

Yellow Thing

The Yellow Thing is a double-hulled floating vessel (like a catamaran), used by Greenpeace to sample marine debris. As of 2006, its primary mission is to be used as a trawl for plastic samples in areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and the North Pacific Gyre. It is not self-powered, rather it is towed via a ship-attached boom (as of 3-2006, it was being used on the MV Esperanza). It is also considered to be relatively stable as a marine vehicle.

Zmudowski State Beach

Zmudowski State Beach is located on Monterey Bay, in Moss Landing, Monterey County, northern California.It is operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Coastal erosion has greatly affected Zmudowski State Beach, along with other beaches in California. It has also been impacted by an influx of marine debris, causing changes in its wildlife populations.

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