U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


  1. Home
  2. News
  3. Blog

Was this page helpful?

How Can You Help Keep Our Coasts Free of Marine Debris?

By Marissa Baldauf Pekular, Summer Press Intern, Department of Commerce's Office of Public Affairs

Coastal regions across America are home to some of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world. The mangroves along Florida’s shorelines, kelp forests found off the California coast, and coral reefs of Hawai‘i all are home to incredible biodiversity, and are important for providing habitat for wildlife, protecting against impacts from storms, and creating economic and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.

Humans affect the coastal environment in significant ways, including by introducing marine debris — plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, derelict vessels, and other lost or discarded items– into these complex ecosystems.

It is challenging to estimate how much marine debris enters U.S. waterways, but a recent study estimated that 23 metric tons of plastic alone entered water bodies around the world in 2016.

When garbage and plastic debris are left on the beach or thrown in the ocean, marine wildlife such as seabirds, fish, whales, and turtles can become entangled or ingest the debris, which can lead to injury or even death.

As plastic continues to be found along U.S. coastlines and waterways, marine species, ecosystems, and even humans will feel the effects. Debris that is sharp or contains hazardous substances poses risks to people in the water. Plastic could also be present in the seafood we eat, although the health risks associated with different plastics and chemicals to people are still unknown.

What Can You Do?

It is important to work together and take action to protect our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes from marine debris. There a several steps you can take to make a difference:

  • Limit your plastic consumption by trying to make more sustainable choices and being a conscious consumer. For example, ditch single-use plastic such as water bottles, bags, and straws, and try reusable products.
  • Always properly dispose of trash, and recycle the items you must use. Trash travels, and debris found on the beach can come from far inland.
  • When visiting the beach, hold onto your trash and pick up trash you come across. Make sure you leave with all the containers, toys, and beach chairs you brought. Although it may not be the most luxurious vacation activity, by picking up a piece of plastic, you can prevent it from entering the ocean and potentially harming wildlife.

Learn more about how NOAA is working to reduce the harmful impacts of marine debris and keep coastal waterways safe at https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/.