Volunteers survey for marine debris on a beach.


The what and why of marine debris monitoring

Making repeated measurements or observations about marine debris is an important way to understand the problem at regional and local scales. Monitoring helps us understand the amount, types, and sources of marine debris that are most common, where it accumulates, and if it is changing over time. Information collected from repeated surveys can be used to set targets for prevention and mitigation, and to measure success in reaching those targets.

Resources - Downloads

NOAA’s shoreline monitoring initiative

The NOAA Marine Debris Program established the Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP) in 2011. The MDMAP measures macro-sized marine debris (roughly the size of a bottle cap or larger) on shorelines and functions as a network of partnering organizations and volunteers who contribute their data to form a bigger picture of the issue. Anyone can get involved

Why focus on shorelines and macro debris? 

As the boundary between land and aquatic ecosystems, shorelines provide a unique window into the source and fate of marine debris in both environments. The MDMAP project focuses on macro debris because it can be readily seen with the naked eye and anyone can contribute meaningful data without the need for specialized equipment or training. Additionally, because large items break up into smaller pieces over time, monitoring macro debris can also provide information about micro debris (smaller than a bottle cap).

Visit the Monitoring Toolbox for more information about how to get started or dive into the online MDMAP dataset to explore data from past surveys.

Other monitoring resources

Interested in monitoring smaller marine debris or in environments other than shorelines? NOAA does not offer a project at this time, but can recommend the following resource:

This report from the Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) provides recommendations and practical guidance for monitoring marine debris.