Marine Debris

Adrift at Sea

Every year, billions of pounds of trash end up in the world's oceans, some making its way to areas of the earth that are uninhabited by humans. This means that items such as water bottles, plastic bags, and drinking straws that are typically used only once, if not disposed of properly, could be found in places you never intended, like the stomach of a whale.
Marine debris is pollution from any man-made material in oceans and lakes. Examples include plastics, fishing gear, and treated wood. A lot of trash that litters our coastline and marine environments originates from land sources, such as storm drains and beaches, but abandoned fishing gear is also a big problem. Debris can be mistaken by marine animals for food and it can also pose a threat by entanglement or physical injury.
Marine debris doesn't harm only fish and other wildlife. A few ways it affects humans are through:
  • beach quality and aesthetics - coastal areas with a lot of litter deter visitors because they can be unsightly and unsafe
  • recreational and commercial fishing/crabbing - abandoned gear can trap and entangle both targeted and untargeted species
  • shipping and navigation - debris in the water can pose hazards to recreational boaters and larger ships
The concern of ocean pollution, including plastic waste, continues to grow through the increased production and use of plastic and other man-made materials. You can take action to help prevent marine debris by making simple changes, like reducing the amount of disposable products you buy, refusing a plastic bag or a drinking straw when you don't need one, drinking from a reusable bottle, and recycling appropriate items when they can't be reused.
Impacts to Delaware
With 381 miles of coastline, Delaware relies heavily on revenue from coastal and ocean tourism, recreation, and business. Because of this, it is important to understand how marine debris can influence the coast. DNREC is involved in various initiatives to research and remove marine debris, as well as prevent future debris through education and outreach. Volunteer opportunities to help reduce this problem include beach cleanups.

Page reviewed 5/14/19