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How does Marine Debris get into the Ocean?

Marine debris enters the ocean via storm drains

Photo Credit:


Land-based items make up 49% of all marine debris according to a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the most common ways that marine debris travels from land to water is by being swept through storm drains. Small pieces of trash tossed into the street are often washed into storm drains during rain storms, which deposit the water – and the trash – into the sea.

Rivers and other waterways can also wash trash into our bays and oceans.

Industrial and urban areas also generate marine debris. Poorly managed municipal dumps and factories can send pollution into waters near and far.

Beachgoers and picnickers also play a part. Many people think nothing of leaving a few plastic cups or aluminum cans behind after a day outdoors. Several bottle caps, soda tabs, plastic utensils, or food wrappers may not seem so bad, but cumulatively their environmental impact can be enormous.


Discarded lines and nets retrieved from  the ocean

Photo Credit: NOAA Marine Program

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that commercial shipping, drilling platforms, and recreational boating produced about eighteen percent of all marine debris.

Debris from ships includes food waste, pieces of wrecked vessels, fishing gear, lines, nets, and buoys. Rough seas can also cause ships to lose cargo or gear overboard.


Extreme weather like hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, and flooding can also produce large amounts of marine debris. During the 2005 hurricane season, nearly nine million cubic yards of debris was spread across 1,770 acres of marshlands in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.