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Water: Marine Debris

Basic Information

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Assessing and Monitoring Floatable Debris Basic Information Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee International Coastal Cleanup Laws and Regulations Marine Debris Factsheet Marine Debris Home Marine Debris Impacts Marine Debris Sources Monitoring and Research National Marine Debris Monitoring Program Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit Prevention, Control, and Reduction What You Can Do Other Resources

Marine debris is any persistent solid material that is directly or indirectly disposed of or abandoned into the aquatic environment. Marine debris is a problem in oceans, coasts, and watersheds throughout the world. Successfully addressing marine debris depends on managing its sources, movement, and impacts. EPA works to prevent, control, and reduce sources and movement of pollution that may become marine debris.

On this page:  Marine Debris Sources | Marine Debris Impacts | Prevention, Control, and Reduction | Monitoring and Research | What You Can Do

Marine Debris Sources

Most marine debris comes from a variety of human activities on land or at sea. Sources of marine debris are not limited to the coasts. Moreover, marine debris can result from human activities anywhere in the watershed, from an overturned trash can miles away from the ocean to litter left on a beach. Objects such as detergent bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, hazardous medical wastes, and discarded fishing line are all materials that can become marine debris. See the Marine Debris Sources section of this site for more details.

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Marine Debris Impacts

Marine debris is a major pollution problem affecting every waterway. Impacts can be experienced locally, nationally, and internationally and threaten human health and safety, the economy, and the environment. Direct impacts of marine debris include aquatic wildlife starvation, suffocation, or death, as well as human health and safety hazards. Indirect impacts of marine debris include ecosystem alteration and tourism and fishing losses. For more information on these and other impacts, visit the Marine Debris Impacts section of this site.

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Prevention, Control, and Reduction

EPA's marine pollution control (Themes and Priority Programs), solid wastes treatment and control, wastewater management, and pollution prevention programs all provide potential solutions for addressing sources, movement, and impacts of marine debris. Specific laws and regulations provide EPA with the statutory authority to support marine debris Prevention, Control, and Reduction. Visit the Prevention, Control, and Reduction section on this site for more information.

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Monitoring and Research

Successfully addressing marine debris depends on identifying and managing its sources, transport, and impacts. EPA has funded various marine debris research projects and grants along beaches, coasts, and watersheds to help determine and monitor these sources and their impacts, including the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program. For more information on this program and others, see the Monitoring and Research section of this site.

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What You Can Do

Visit the What You Can Do section of this site to learn the many actions you can take to help prevent marine debris at home, at school, at the office, at sea, as a beachfront property owner, or on the go, as well as participate in cleanup events.

For more information on marine debris, please see the Marine Debris Factsheet | PDF Version (2 pp, 435K, About PDF).

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