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Assessment, Monitoring, and Reduction of the Causes and Impacts of Marine Debris in the South Atlantic Bight


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Objectives

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Biogeography Branch (BB) collaborated with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to assess, monitor, and reduce the causes and impacts of marine debris in GRNMS, a representative hard bottom habitat in the South Atlantic Bight. The objectives of this study were to:

  1. Select, mark, and perform initial marine debris surveys at permanent monitoring sites within GRNMS to quantify long-term trends in types, abundance, impacts, and accumulation rates of debris.
  2. Compare types, abundance, and accumulation rates of marine debris between a) areas of high and low use and b) short and tall ledges.
  3. Examine national reconnaissance data (e.g. satellite, radar, aerial surveys) and other information on known fishing locations for patterns of resource use and correlations with debris occurrence patterns.
  4. Refine models predicting the density of marine debris based on bottom type, benthic features, and boater density.
  5. Document monitoring protocols for GRNMS staff based on year-one results to enable long-term moni­toring of sites.
netting fish
Net entangled in live bottom habitat.
Image by NOAA's Biogeography Branch
Fish schooling around densely colonized live bottom in GRNMS. Image by NOAA's Biogeography Branch

Project Summary

Marine debris has been documented as an increasing problem affecting many parts of the coastal U.S. Despite focused attention in some regions, a comprehensive understanding of marine debris issues representative of all U.S. coastal areas suffers from lack of studies in several regions. One such region, the Atlantic Coast of the Southeast U.S., has received virtually no scrutiny despite bottom types and human activities that indicate the propensity for a marine debris problem/ This region is comprised of a broad, sandy continental shelf interspersed with patchy hard bottom or limestone ledges that harbor a diversity of sessile invertebrates and reef fish.  NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS), the only natural area protected off the Georgia coast, encompasses bottom types and human use representative of the region. Less than one percent of the 17 square nautical mile sanctuary is densely colonized live bottom habitat, which attracts a growing number of recreational fishers and divers. 

beer can
Aluminum beverage container on benthic habitat. Image by NOAA's Biogeography Branch

As part of a recent characterization of GRNMS (Kendall et al. 2007), the Biogeography Branch has characterized marine debris in Gray’s Reef. They found that incidence of the debris at the limited densely colonized ledge sites in the sanctuary was significantly greater than at sand or sparsely colonized live bottom, and is further influenced by the level of boating activity and physiographic characteristics (e.g., ledge height).  Building upon this work, scientists from the BB worked with sanctuary staff to establish a long-term monitoring program to quantify accumulation rates and impacts of marine debris at densely colonized ledge habitat. NOAA scientists designed the survey, selected and marked sites, and then performed the initial survey and removed debris from each site. Sites were re-surveyed approximately one year later to quantify new accumulation. GRNMS staff and volunteer will continue to perform the survey on an annual basis. Additional boat location data was analyzed to relate spatial patterns of debris to improve prediction models. A previous model predicting the density of marine debris based on ledge features and boat use was refined and the results were used to generate a map of predicted debris density for all ledges. At the same time, GRNMS expanded outreach programs to educate users and the general public about the importance of reducing marine debris inputs.

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Time Frame

Completed: June 2007 - June 2010

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Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway
SSMC-IV, N/SCI-1
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3022 x236



1305 East West Highway
SSMC-IV, N/SCI-1
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3022 x144



Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
10 Ocean Science Circle
Savannah, GA 31411
912-598-2416