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Marine Debris Challenges National Wildlife Refuge System

Marine Debris Challenges National Wildlife Refuge System

The National Wildlife Refuge System's 174 coastal refuges (including those along the Great Lakes) offer some great places to birdwatch, fish, and observe elephant seals, sea turtles and a host of other marine wildlife. Unfortunately, they are also inundated with marine debris that washes up on refuge shores every year.

Overall, coastal wildlife refuges account for some 30,000 miles of shoreline and 20 million coastal acres.

For almost two decades, volunteers on the Hawaiian Islands and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuges have collected and catalogued marine debris, including lost commercial fishing gear and a variety of plastic trash that has become an all too common problem across the world's oceans and coastal habitats. That such trash accumulates even on remote atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean highlights the challenges coastal national wildlife refuges face.

The scale of marine debris ranges from hundreds of tons of small plastics covering entire shoreline landscapes to large, abandoned vessels wrecked on Refuge System coasts and reefs. Refuge System field staff, volunteers and partners work vigorously to remove, quantify and contain marine debris. Projects range from beach cleanup by volunteer groups to multi-agency partnerships that collect hundreds of tons of submerged or shoreline debris.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently launched a Marine Debris Web site ( to provide information and resources to state and local authorities, the private sector and international partners – and even teachers and youngsters – on how they can help solve the problem.

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