Our ocean is filled with things that don’t belong there. Plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, and other lost or discarded items end up in the marine environment every day. Marine debris is one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s ocean and waterways, with tons of plastics entering the ocean each year. It is a global problem, and an everyday problem.
Some parts of the ocean have more microplastics and other debris than others, but no matter where it is, marine debris threatens our environment, navigation safety, economy, and human health. NOAA’s Marine Debris Program addresses this serious problem in our waters.
In January, the Marine Debris Program welcomed Demi Fox as the new Northeast Regional Coordinator. Demi received her Bachelor of Science degree from Florida State University and a Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke University. Before graduate school, Demi worked as an intern with the Whale Center of New England. There, she responded to stranded marine mammals and collected behavioral data from whale watching vessels out of Boston Harbor. As part of her graduate studies, she developed tools for sustainable tourism focused on spinner dolphins in Hawaii and later conducted research on the effectiveness of outreach strategies as a Duke University researcher. Prior to her start with the Marine Debris Program, Demi worked at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida and shared sea turtle conservation programs with boaters, scuba operators, and anglers.
To address the preventable problem of increasing amounts of trash in our seas, Demi works with partners throughout the region to both remove existing debris and prevent more debris from entering the ocean.
Recently, NOAA worked with the Center for Coastal Studies on a project to remove lost fishing gear from Cape Cod Bay. Using side-scan sonar, researchers located lost or abandoned gear, and worked with fishermen to retrieve it. This “ghost” gear can continue to trap fish, crabs, and lobster even though no one is actively fishing it, and can also pose a hazard to many other marine animals as it sits on the seafloor or washes ashore.
In most cases, fishermen lose gear to storms, ship traffic, and other fishing gear. For example, a lobster trap can get swept away by a trawler. According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the annual gear loss rate is between five and 18 percent. In Cape Cod Bay alone, derelict lobster traps may catch from 12,500 to 33,000 lobsters per year. By the end of the project, researchers estimated they removed 17 tons of debris (or approximately 480 lobster traps plus two tons of associated gear).
NOAA is also working with Sea Education Association in partnership with Falmouth Water Stewards and local middle school students to develop the Trash Shouldn’t Splash program. This project inspires people to reduce their use of single-use plastics through behavioral change. To do so, students create and use surveys and scorecards to educate various audiences, such as restaurant owners and managers, to understand why people use single-use plastic items such as utensils or drinking straws.
Project partners are working with town officials and community television networks to bring awareness to the issue of ocean plastics. In addition, students are organizing beach cleanups and developing toolkits for anyone who wishes to bring the program to their community.
These are just a couple of the NOAA supported projects focused on removing and reducing marine debris. To find out how you can get involved, contact Demi at 978-281-9136 or Demi.Fox@noaa.gov.