Marine Debris Handling Guidelines

a boat covered in marine growth.
A boat washes up in Ocean Shores, WA. Credit: WA Ecy

These guidelines were developed during the U.S. response to debris that originated from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. They are consistent with good practices for handling and reporting of marine debris found on shorelines.

General Guidance

Be safe: Use common sense and follow general safety guidelines. If you don't know what an item is, don't touch it. If it appears hazardous, contact the appropriate authorities. It is important to remember that many items that wash up on shore are from chronic everyday sources rather than a specific incident, so please use your discretion when reporting items. 

Guidelines by Debris Type

Litter and other typical marine debris items Examples: Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, buoys, plastic foam. Common marine debris types may vary by location. If safe and practical, we encourage you to remove the debris and recycle as much of it as possible.

Potential hazardous materials (HAZMAT) Examples: Oil or chemical drums, gas cans, propane tanks. Contact your local authorities, a state emergency response or environmental health agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 to report the item with as much information as possible. Do not touch the item or attempt to move it. If the item poses a serious hazard and requires immediate attention by authorities, make a 911 emergency call.

Derelict vessel or other large debris item Examples: Adrift fishing boat, shipping containers. Contact your local authorities and a state emergency response or environmental health agency to report the item. If the debris item is a potential hazard to navigation, immediately radio your nearest U.S. Coast Guard Sector Command Center. Do not attempt to move or remove the item.

Unknown item: If you don't know what it is, don't touch it. If you believe it is a hazardous item, contact local authorities and report it.