Status of Marine Debris on U.S. Shorelines
Two people recording on datasheets on a beach.
NOAA and CSIRO marine debris monitoring protocols were compared during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Three people scanning a beach.
George Leonard (Ocean Conservancy), Sarah Kollar (Ocean Conservancy), and Chris Wilcox (CSIRO) conduct a monitoring survey on Third Beach, WA during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Amy Uhrin standing on a beach with a measuring wheel.
Amy Uhrin (Chief Scientist for the NOAA Marine Debris Program) gets ready to measure the distance of Seven Devils Wayside Beach, OR during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Two people recording data on a data sheet on a beach.
Amy Uhrin (NOAA Marine Debris Program) and Sherry Lippiatt (NOAA Marine Debris Program) get ready to conduct a monitoring survey at Gold’s Bluff Beach, CA. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
People scanning a beach and recording data on a data sheet on a beach.
Team members from the Ocean Conservancy conduct a shoreline monitoring survey at North Jetty, CA as part of the field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

The Ocean Conservancy, together with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, was supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program to analyze datasets from their 30-year International Coastal Cleanup efforts as well as five years’ worth of data from NOAA's Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. This project used a statistical model to identify geographic patterns and trends in marine debris distribution, assess marine debris management actions, and produce recommendations to improve marine debris monitoring protocols.

Type of Project: Research

Region: National

Project Dates: September 2015 - December 2016

Who is involved?
The NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered with the Ocean Conservancy (OC) and scientists and statisticians from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) (through a sub-contract from the OC) to conduct a rigorous analysis of the OC’s 30-year International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) dataset and the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP) dataset to detect trends and patterns of marine debris on U.S. shorelines.

What is the project and why is it important?
Marine debris is an ecological threat that can injure organisms that ingest or get entangled in it, damage habitats, cause navigational problems, and drive tourists (and their wallets) away from beaches. There are many efforts to address this issue, including the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), the largest international annual cleanup effort that has been led by the Ocean Conservancy for the past 30 years. In addition, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has a shoreline monitoring program (the MDMAP), where a network of dedicated volunteers conducts monthly marine debris surveys at select sites across the United States. As a result of these efforts, both the Ocean Conservancy and NOAA possess large marine debris shoreline datasets, although neither had been rigorously analyzed.

This study set out to analyze the OC’s ICC dataset and NOAA’s MDMAP dataset, and to conduct monitoring fieldwork in order to compare and contrast the OC cleanup protocols with NOAA and CSIRO marine debris shoreline monitoring protocols, identifying areas for improvement to strengthen each protocol. CSIRO researchers and statisticians analyzed the NOAA and OC datasets to develop a baseline estimate of the amounts, types, sources, and distribution of marine debris around the U.S. The NOAA and OC datasets were independently analyzed using a generalized additive model (GAM) to uncover unique insights from each dataset and identify important variables driving marine debris patterns.

The protocols from NOAA and CSIRO (CSIRO protocols developed by Drs. Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox) were compared during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. Team members from CSIRO, OC, and NOAA conducted field monitoring surveys using both protocols on adjacent areas of the same beach. Due to logistical constraints, the OC protocol could not be compared to the NOAA and CSIRO protocols. However, recommendations to improve both the OC and NOAA protocol were provided for shoreline monitoring and cleanup efforts moving forward.

Results from this project provided valuable insights into the state of marine debris on U.S. shorelines, uncovered interesting stories about management initiatives, and illustrated that important findings can be derived from citizen science data collection efforts. Stay tuned for more specific results in the coming months!

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Three people scanning a beach.
George Leonard (Ocean Conservancy), Sarah Kollar (Ocean Conservancy), and Chris Wilcox (CSIRO) conduct a monitoring survey on Third Beach, WA during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Amy Uhrin standing on a beach with a measuring wheel.
Amy Uhrin (Chief Scientist for the NOAA Marine Debris Program) gets ready to measure the distance of Seven Devils Wayside Beach, OR during a field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Two people recording data on a data sheet on a beach.
Amy Uhrin (NOAA Marine Debris Program) and Sherry Lippiatt (NOAA Marine Debris Program) get ready to conduct a monitoring survey at Gold’s Bluff Beach, CA. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
People scanning a beach and recording data on a data sheet on a beach.
Team members from the Ocean Conservancy conduct a shoreline monitoring survey at North Jetty, CA as part of the field monitoring effort in July 2016. (Photo Credit: NOAA)