North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

January 30, 2015 | Sara Mirabilio


Posted Jan. 29, 2015

I must begin by confessing I borrowed the title for this post from a learning guide on marine trash, also called marine debris. That document, originally developed in 1992 for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was updated in 2007 and 2015 with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program.

Pile of trash, including tire and crab pots.

Volunteers found piles to trash at a cleanup effort on Roanoke Island in mid January. Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

But, turning the tide on trash was exactly what came to pass Saturday, Jan. 17, as the morning sun shone on calm waters — uncharacteristic for the Outer Banks at this time of year — surrounding Roanoke Island.

In 2014, with support from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and North Carolina Sea Grant, the North Carolina Coastal Federation set out to establish an annual sounds and shorelines cleanup. The effort is a public-private partnership between fishermen, N.C. Marine Patrol officers and the general public.

According to state law, between Jan. 15 and Feb. 7 each year, fishermen must remove crab pots from the water. Among other things, this enables the Marine Patrol to identify lost and abandoned gear that often makes its way to shore, causing habitat damage. If this derelict gear remains in the water, it can continue to trap crabs, fish and sometimes even birds.

From just a small expanse of northeastern North Carolina waters, fishermen in the 2014 pilot effort removed 201 crab pots, while Marine Patrol officers removed an additional 163 pots. An associated shoreline cleanup that involved 27 community volunteers removed 620 pounds of solid waste and 380 pounds of derelict fishing gear — most of which were crab pots — from National Park Service property on the “North End” of the island.

This year’s numbers are still coming in, and Sea Grant’s coastal resources and communities specialist, Gloria Putnam, will report on the water-based activities in a later post.

Thirty-two souls braved the cold winter’s day to clean up the North End again. Follow their muddy boots as they put in a hard day of work.

The group of volunteers poses for a photo.

The 2015 marine debris shoreline cleanup crew: 31 volunteers plus myself. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

This year, a handful of the volunteers trudged through cordgrass and needlerush to clean an additional tract of salt marsh managed by The Nature Conservancy midway on Roanoke Island.

Plastic bottles and pieces of wood found by volunteers.

Trash and other waste that is carried into the water, called marine debris, can result in degraded coastal habitat. Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

Discarded plastic remnants were a common sight. According to this report, plastics comprise about 60 to 80 percent of debris found floating in the water or along shorelines worldwide.

A broken piece of plastic found by volunteers.

Discarded remnants of plastic were a common sight. Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

Boat strikes, which can destroy floats and cut crab pot float lines, can lead to lost fishing gear.

Small floats found by volunteers.

Volunteers picked up 66 floats that once marked the location of crab pots and gill net sets. Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

According to this article in Marine Pollution Bulletin, heavy debris items — such as derelict fishing gear, old tires, and man-made and treated wood — can smother and crush sensitive salt marsh habitat. The marsh serves a vital role in buffering wave energy, stabilizing shorelines, and providing habitat for a number of commercially important fish and shellfish species, as well as migratory birds.

A tire is removed from the salt marsh by a volunteer.

Volunteers also had to haul away heavy debris, such as this tire. Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

The event resulted in some tired — and dirty — volunteers.

Volunteers show muddy boots.

We put our best foot forward. Or, shall I say our best muddy boot? Kudos to all of the volunteers for a job well done! Photo by Sara Mirabilio.

We face many complex challenges when it comes to managing North Carolina’s coastal and marine resources, but the problem of marine debris is simple to understand. And it is one problem for which individual citizens — including fishermen — can become an immediate part of the solution.

Consider lending a hand in 2016. Visit to find out how.

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