underwater photo looking up through marine debris floating on the surface.

Discover the Issue

What is marine debris?
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.

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.

Most of all, marine debris is preventable. Learn more about marine debris and find out how you can help.

Oversimplified graphic of "garbage patches" in the North Pacific Ocean.

Learn more about what garbage patches are, their impacts on the ocean, and what we can do about them. 

Trash Talk

This 15-minute special feature introduces the many types of marine debris and how you can prevent some of the surprising and sneaky ways that trash flows into our rivers and the ocean.

Learn more about the different types of debris, including plastic, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned and derelict vessels.
A diver tries to remove a rope from a propeller
Understand marine debris impacts, including how it harms wildlife, habitat, and the economy.
Workers lift heavy debris from beach.
Learn how you can help solve the marine debris problem.


Does 80% of marine debris come from land?

It is unclear where this statistic originated. It's frequently quoted in the press but doesn't appear often in scientific literature. A few times the results from the International Coastal Cleanup were cited as the source for these percentages; however if you take a look at the results from any given year, you will notice percentages differing from one place to another. Additionally, this event surveys primarily beach debris, and thus may overestimate land-based sources because of beachgoers’ litter. We know relatively little about what is lying on the ocean floor or suspended in the water column. Because of this we truly can't say what the land- and ocean-based percentages are with any certainty or accuracy. Just begin to think of all the debris types that sink (e.g., metal, dense plastics) in addition to all the ships on our ocean floor and you get the picture.