Colorful microplastics in a bottle.


The Marine Debris Program supports research projects across the country that address marine debris, its sources, and its impacts. These projects work to investigate many unanswered questions about marine debris so we can better understand it and mitigate its impacts, focusing on marine debris monitoring, fishing gear improvement and alternatives, life cycle analysis, chemical impacts, and economic impacts.

Active Research Projects

Completed Research Projects - Archives

Click the bars below to view completed projects from that year.

2019 Projects

A microscopic crab larvae is being viewed through a microscope.

Researchers from the University of Delaware are evaluating the effects microplastics have on blue crab larvae at different developmental stages and will test whether exposure during these stages impacts blue crab survival and settlement to Mid-Atlantic Bight estuaries.

Two small fish are shown side by side in a clear container of water.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science and partners will examine whether microplastic ingestion increases disease susceptibility in rainbow trout.

A top down view of a crab pot with three green panels that will dissolve over time.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, worked to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska.

2018 Projects

Two people laying a transect.

Scientists and statisticians with the University of Washington’s Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) are collaborating with the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) to conduct shoreline monitoring field trials to evaluate and update the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP) and COASST marine debris monitoring protocols.

Live mussel between fingers.

This collaborative study between the NOAA Mussel Watch Program, Loyola University Chicago, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, will use invasive mussels as a monitoring tool for microplastic pollution across the Milwaukee Estuary, Wisconsin.

2017 Projects

Buckets full of scallops.

Researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, and Florida Atlantic University, with support from NOAA Marine Debris Program Research Grant are conducting experiments to provide the data needed to calculate the risk of microplastic ingestion to scallop stock populations.

A fish resting in a researcher’s gloved hands.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) are investigating microplastic ingestion by black sea bass, both by direct consumption and through transfer from prey to predator.

A microscope image of microfibers trapped in an oyster gill.

Scientists at the University of Connecticut are determining the types and concentrations of microplastics ingested by oysters, how microplastic characteristics may influence ingestion, and the effects on oysters’ digestive processes.

A beach with palm trees, littered with debris.

Researchers from Arizona State University used a risk assessment framework to quantify microplastics in water, sediment, and invertebrates at three sites in American Samoa, as well as assess the types and concentrations of organic contaminants in the water, sediment, invertebrates, and microplastic samples.

2016 Projects

A beach filled with people and umbrellas located in Delaware.

Economists with Abt Associates conducted an economic study to understand how marine debris affected the economies of tourism-dependent coastal communities.

Two people taking a water sample from a boat.

Scientists collected and studied water samples from 11 locations along the Mississippi River and quantified and characterized microplastic debris that may eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

2015 Projects

Two people sampling on a beach.

The National Park Service and Clemson University worked to collect and analyze beach sediments to assess the abundance and distribution of microplastics and microfibers on U.S. National Park beaches.

Two people recording on datasheets on a beach.

The Ocean Conservancy, with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, led a research project which analyzed datasets from the International Coastal Cleanup and NOAA's Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. It identified trends in marine debris distribution using a model, assessed management actions, and produced recommendations to improve monitoring protocols.

2014 Projects

A variety of samples from Gulf of Alaska surface waters. (Photo Credit: University of Washington Tacoma)

Scientists from UW Tacoma and UW’s JISAO established a baseline for the distribution and quantity of marine microplastics in the Gulf of Alaska, using it to investigate any change in microplastics following the 2011 Fukushima tsunami.

Floating Sargassum. (Photo Credit: University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory)

The University of Southern Mississippi investigated the ingestion of marine microplastics in juvenile fish that use floating Sargassum (brown algae) as nursery habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bycatch Example (Photo Credit: VIMS).

This project investigated the physical, biological, and socio-economic impacts of Derelict Fishing Gear (DFG) in the Chesapeake Bay.

Blue crab pot with biopanel.

The College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science employed commercial fishermen to test biodegradable panels and will use color avoidance mechanisms to reduce bycatch mortality in derelict crab pots as part of a Fishing for Energy Gear Innovation project.

Researchers load pots into a tub for testing.

The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Foundation determined the escapement rates of Dungeness crab from five different crab pot designs in the Puget Sound in this Fishing for Energy Gear Innovation project.

SCNDR Field Biologist Watches a Float.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources evaluated crab trap float rigging designs that may reduce crab trap damage and loss from boat strikes in this Fishing for Energy Gear Innovation project.

Blue crabs trapped in a derelict pot.

SERC evaluated existing crab pot technologies to reduce the impact of Maryland ghost crab pots in the Chesapeake Bay in this Fishing for Energy Gear Innovation project.

2013 Projects

Leaching from and sorbing to microplastics was the main focus of this study.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), funded by a research grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, investigated how various environmental conditions can affect contaminants leaching from, and attaching (sorbing) to, marine microplastic debris.

Mussels in a UC Davis laboratory receive polymers with PCBs.

Researchers in California investigated how contaminants associated with microplastics move through aquatic food chains.

Copepod Example (Photo Credit: Jason P. Landrum).

Sea Education Association, Inc. (SEA) worked with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to answer impact questions related to microplastics. Do copepods demonstrate selective grazing behavior when presented with microplastics contaminated with select persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic substances (PBT) chemicals, in addition to their natural prey?

Volunteers inspect a beach for marine debris.

Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and local partners worked with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to evaluate and expand regional marine debris monitoring efforts.

2012 Projects

Four people surveying a beach for marine debris.

The Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies at Oregon State University worked to develop a pilot marine debris monitoring program for the Oregon Coast.

Three people carrying marine debris off a beach.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary worked to monitor marine debris in the Sanctuary.

Three people surveying a beach for marine debris.

The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary worked to monitor marine debris in the Sanctuary.

Microplastics sample from the Rhode River. (Photo Credit: Will Parson, courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program)

The University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center Aquatic Toxicology Group, by request of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, analyzed archived surface-water samples from four Chesapeake Bay tributaries for microplastic debris.

Marine debris on a beach in California.

Southern California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach, according to a new NOAA-funded Marine Debris Program economics study.

2011 Projects

Plastic nurdles spread out on a table

Scientists from the University of Washington Tacoma and George Mason University worked to isolate and quantify microplastics in water and sediment samples and to compare laboratory protocols.

2009 Projects

Derelict Dungeness Crab Pot.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is supported research efforts to measure and address the impacts of derelict crab traps in Alaska’s Dungeness crab fisheries.