Sources and Scope of Marine Debris Problem

Too often litter makes its way onto our beaches and into our rivers and oceans. Marine debris is a growing problem that has attracted worldwide attention, prompting action by government agencies, private enterprise, environmental groups and millions of citizens.

As the Ocean Conservancy says marine debris doesn't fall from the sky, it falls from human hands and human hands have the power to stop it.

Although marine litter is made up of all sorts of materials and products and comes from both land and marine sources, relatively lightweight plastics often float, making some plastics more visible than other types of marine debris.

While plastics have received the bulk of attention, photographs of the ocean floor identify other problems, such as bottles, cans and all sorts of marine equipment and other refuse. As much as 70% of marine debris sinks to the ocean floor, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.

Derelict fishing gear is an especially dangerous form of marine debris, particularly for marine life.

For all these reasons, truly effective solutions must focus on preventing all types of litter from entering our waterways and oceans. Ocean litter has no geographic or political boundaries, so solutions must involve international partnerships and be global in scope.

Visit South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Irish Sea Fisheries Board (Bord Iaschaigh Mhara) for estimates of how long it takes common items found in marine debris to biodegrade in the marine environment.

Learn more about What NOAA Says, What Ocean Conservancy Says, and In the Pacific Gyre.