Monitoring Marine Debris in Virginia’s Coastal Zone

Volunteers inspect a beach for marine debris.
Volunteers inspect a beach for marine debris.

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

Project Dates: January 2014 - March 2018

What’s the project?

Growing concern about the impacts of marine debris in the ocean and coastal waters, along with increasing emphasis on storm water management of litter and debris, have imparted a sense of urgency to better understand and address marine debris in Virginia’s coastal waters. Participants of the 2013 Virginia Marine Debris Summit discussed many gaps in knowledge, including the need for high-value data about the quantity and types of marine debris found on Virginia’s beaches. While extensive data ‘snapshots’ exist, to provide the full picture and to make informed comparisons over time, the data need to be accompanied by site-specific data collected using a rigorous protocol and established baselines. And through monitoring, we can evaluate the effectiveness of educational outreach, pollution prevention, and policies put in place to reduce marine debris.

Who is involved?

Supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program and administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, partners at the Virginia Aquarium and Clean Virginia Waterways initiated the monitoring program to gather information monthly at four coastal sites (Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Fisherman Island NWR, Back Bay NWR and Grandview Nature Preserve).

What does it accomplish?

Monitoring marine debris is necessary to understand sources, locations, amounts, movement, impacts, and accumulation rates of debris. The project establishes a locally-relevant shoreline marine debris monitoring pilot project using the Marine Debris Shoreline Survey protocols developed by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Monitoring data are uploaded monthly to the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s national shoreline monitoring database. The resulting data provide:

1) A baseline against which Virginia can evaluate the effectiveness of its existing Marine Debris Reduction Plan;
2) A regional evaluation on the effectiveness of shoreline monitoring protocols;
3) Recommendations to continue long-term monitoring at the four sites; and
4) Regionally-relevant marine debris issues on which to focus and mitigate at the local and/or state level.

What’s something unique about the project?

While this project is new, two of the sites (Chincoteague and Back Bay) were part of previous marine debris monitoring research within the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program project that was conducted by Ocean Conservancy and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency between September 2001 and September 2006.