The NOAA Marine Debris Program Awards Funding to 5 New Projects to Research Marine Debris

An image of microplastics on a beach.
Microplastic pieces on a beach (Photo: NOAA).

After a highly competitive review process, the NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to announce the 5 recipients of our 2021 research awards, totaling nearly $1.4 million of funding toward marine debris research efforts. The NOAA Marine Debris Program offered a nationwide competitive funding opportunity to support original, hypothesis-driven research projects focused on the critical input pathways for marine debris introduction into the coastal zone. These awards continue the Marine Debris Program’s commitment to increasing our shared understanding of marine debris and its impacts.

The 2021 funded projects are:


Rochester Institute of Technology (New York, $332,282) will examine sources of both macro- and micro-debris entering Lake Ontario, including storm drains, stormwater ponds, tributaries, and riparian areas. The researchers will also evaluate how marine debris breaks down over time and create a model to understand the total amount of marine debris in Lake Ontario. This project will provide information about the socioeconomic and geographic factors leading to marine debris in the Great Lakes region and identify leverage points where local resource managers and stakeholders can take action to prevent and reduce marine debris. 

San Diego State University (California, $293,846) will conduct field, laboratory, and modeling studies to understand the sources and amounts of marine debris entering the San Diego River watershed. Using new and existing data and remote sensing techniques, the researchers will develop a model for the watershed to compare inputs of debris from river margin sources, including encampments and illegal dumping, with debris from storm drain outfalls. The project will also interview unhoused individuals to determine the drivers of debris-generating behavior and develop strategies to reduce debris from encampments.  

University of Delaware (Delaware, $300,373) will measure marine debris abundance, size, and type in the Delaware Bay. The researchers will conduct boat-based sampling, shoreline cleanups, and satellite imagery analysis to refine a model of the Bay to predict how marine debris enters and exits, as well as how it moves within the Bay. This research will provide actionable information for future management decisions to reduce marine debris and improve the quality of Delaware coastal waters. 

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (Maryland, $167,155) will examine how marshes and submerged aquatic vegetation influence the way plastic debris flows down the Choptank River. Using field sampling, uncrewed aerial vehicles, and modeling, the researchers will characterize the size and abundance of debris in the water and sediments of the Choptank River basin, and compare how plastic debris is deposited and degrades in open water and vegetated habitats. The project will also develop and model scenarios to determine which factors and mitigation strategies could have the greatest impact on reducing marine debris in riverine environments. 

Villanova University (Pennsylvania, $338,123) will use field and laboratory experiments to explore how marine debris moves from the upstream areas of the Guánica Watershed to the nearshore coastal waters of southwest Puerto Rico. In partnership with local partners in Puerto Rico, the researchers will look at sources of debris, how debris transport varies across the wet and dry seasons, and what factors influence debris degradation. This information will be used to develop a regional assessment of marine debris in the Guánica Watershed, which can both be used to improve natural resource management in the region and be applied to increase our understanding of marine debris in other riverine and coastal locations.


Awarded Research Projects - Archives

Click the bars below to view projects financed in that year.

2023 Funded Projects

Grantee: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis is developing a framework to help governments estimate the costs of plastic pollution, taking into account the amount of plastic waste entering the environment, how long plastics last, and their impacts on the environment.

2019 Funded Projects

Grantee: University of Delaware (Delaware, $324,992) will evaluate the effects microplastics have on blue crabs and test whether exposure during their (larval) developmental stages impacts blue crab survival and settlement to Mid-Atlantic Bight estuaries. This will be done through a combination of modeling, laboratory studies, and field measurements, with the goal of understanding individual and population level effects.
Grantee: Regents of the University of California at Riverside (California, $329,982) will investigate the origins and pathways of microplastic pollution in the Southern California Bight using modeling and field measurements of riverine and wastewater treatment inputs. This will enable the scientific and management communities to better understand the fate and transport of microplastics in the Southern California Bight and will also inform potential management strategies to more effectively prevent such debris from entering the environment in the first place.
Grantee: Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Virginia, $280,839) will examine whether microplastic ingestion increases disease susceptibility in rainbow trout, a commercially important salmonid species. New information suggests that exposure to very small microplastics and fibers may affect immune health, and research on the link between microplastic ingestion and disease expression will inform efforts by the scientific and management communities to address this problem.
Grantee: Rutgers University (New Jersey, $320,000) will study the movement of microplastics from riverine to oceanic systems and the role this area may play as the entry point for microplastics into the food chain. Unique oceanographic characteristics exist where rivers and the ocean meet, and these characteristics may influence the movement of marine debris from one system to the other and the assimilation of microplastics in the marine food chain.

2017 Funded Projects

Grantee: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ($192,690) will assess the role of seasonal phytoplankton blooms in increasing the availability of microplastics for sea scallop consumption, and if microplastics serve as means of transferring dangerous bacterial pathogens to scallops.
Grantee: University of North Carolina at Wilmington ($289,098) will assess if black sea bass consume contaminated microplastics and if microplastics are being transferred between prey and predator species.
Grantee: The University of Connecticut ($257,531) will identify what effects microplastic consumption has on oysters, what types of microplastics are most likely to be consumed by oysters, and increase understanding of how microplastics are impacting marine resources.
Grantee: Arizona State University ($195,837) will use a risk assessment framework to quantify microplastics (plastic pieces <5mm in size) in water, sediment, and bivalves at three sites in American Samoa, and assess the types and concentrations of organic contaminants in those microplastics.