Marine Debris Impacts on Coastal and Benthic Habitats

Marine debris produces a wide variety of environmental, economic, safety, health, and cultural impacts and is rapidly achieving recognition as a key anthropogenic threat to global oceanic ecosystems. A central theme of research on habitat degradation via marine debris is determining the impact of specific types of debris (abandoned or derelict fishing gear and plastics in particular) on sensitive habitats. This report explores the impacts of marine debris as they affect coastal and ocean habitats, including sandy beaches, salt marshes, mangrove forests, coral reefs and hard bottom, seagrass, benthic sediments, and oyster reefs. Other important habitats—such as areas with kelp and macroalgae, rocky intertidal areas, and freshwater systems such as the Great Lakes region—are lacking research on the effects of marine debris and are in need of more attention regarding habitat impacts.

It is important to understand the nature and extent of the impacts caused by marine debris on marine habitats, which can directly affect many other parts of the ecosystem. Learning more about this problem enables us to better address it in the future.