Stanley the Striped Bass holding a trash canTrash & Marine Debris

Trash, lost fishing gear, and plastic bags in the water (known as marine debris) or washed up on levees and beaches are harmful to wildlife and the quality of recreation. Marine debris also poses serious threats to safety in our waterways and can wrap around boat propellers and clog boat intakes, causing costly engine damage.

Some marine debris such as cigarette filters, trash, plastic bags and small plastic pieces looks like food to animals. Once ingested, these materials can cause suffocation and/or starvation. To date, entanglement and ingestion has been reported in hundreds of animal species worldwide.

One study found an average of 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile in the North Pacific Central Gyre, which serves as a natural eddy system, concentrating material in on location in the Pacific Ocean.1 Results of more than 10 years of volunteer beach cleanup data indicate that 60 to 80 percent of beach debris comes from land-based sources. Debris in the marine environment means hazards for animals and humans. Plastic marine debris effects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all sea bird species, and 43 percent of marine animal mammal species. 2

Trash wrapped around a bird beakWhat can I do to prevent marine debris?

  • Bring all your trash back to shore. Put empty containers back in your cooler to recycle on shore.
  • Properly stash all containers and trash onboard to prevent it from being blown overboard. Designate a permanent onboard trash bin with a lid or cover.
  • Help guests understand that on your boat, no trash is thrown overboard. Don't dump plastics and trash overboard - it is illegal and harms wildlife.
  • Find ways to reduce the amount of garbage you create while aboard your boat. For example, pack food from home in reusable containers rather than disposable food bags.
  • Take used monofilament fishing line back to recycling bins at your marina or tackle shop, or send it directly to: Berkley Recycling Center, 1900 18th Street, Spirit Lake, IA 51360-1099.
  • Fishing line wrapped around a boat propellerShrink wrap is a low-density polyethylene used to protect boats during the winter. Shrink wrap is not biodegradable, and can become a disposal problem at landfills. Many marinas offer shrink wrap recycling programs. If your marina does not offer shrink wrap recycling on site, there are companies that (for a fee) will send you a postage-paid bag that can be filled with shrink wrap and returned to the company for recycling.
  • Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter found washed up on beaches and are not biodegradable. Approximately 40% of the debris picked up by volunteers during California Coastal Cleanup Day is attributed to cigarette butts (California Coastal Commission). Place extinguished cigarette butts in the trash. 
  • Participate in a local marina or beach clean up. Call (800) COAST 4U (262-7848) or visit the California Coastal Commission Cleanup webpage for organized events in your area.

More Information

1 Moore, C.J., S.L. Moore, M.K. Leecaster, and S.B. Weisberg, 2001. A comparison of plastic and plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin 42, 1297-1300.

2 Laist, D.W., 1997. Impacts of marine debris: entanglement of marine life in marine debris including a comprehensive list of species with entanglement and ingestion records. In: Coe, J.M. and D.B. Rogers (Eds.), Marine Debris -- Sources, Impacts and Solutions. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp. 99-139