What NOAA Says
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken the lead in the United States to identify the scope and sources of marine debris. According to NOAA, marine debris is any manmade object discarded, disposed of or abandoned that enters the coastal or marine environment. It may enter directly from a ship, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains.
Sources of land-based debris include: inappropriate disposal of trash from picnics, beach going and fishing; debris from lawns, parking lots, streets and storm drains that are blown to sea; inadvertent or intentional release of waste from solid waste facilities; and sewage overflows. It is estimated that 80% of marine debris is from land based sources.
Ocean based sources include: improperly disposed trash from boats; national disasters; abandoned fishing gear (lines, nets, ropes and more); and industrial activities at sea.
Marine debris is not simply ugly it can be harmful to ocean ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Marine debris can injure coral reefs and bottom dwelling species and entangle or drown ocean wildlife. Some species ingest marine debris, potentially causing choking or starvation. Medical waste (such as syringes) often contains harmful bacteria and pathogens that pose a hazard to beachgoers. Some marine debris gets entangled on boat motors and can clog seawater intakes.
Learn more about sources and scope of marine debris from NOAA's Marine Debris Facts.