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Diving Deeper Shorts: Episode 3 (August 26, 2010) -

Marine Debris

HOST: Today on Diving Deeper Shorts, we will revisit our previous interview on marine debris with Megan Forbes from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

Let’s listen in.

HOST: What are some of the most common types of marine debris?

MEGAN FORBES: That really depends on where you look. There’s no one type of marine debris. It can be anything from trash or litter that people don’t dispose of correctly to a large conglomerate of nets or traps that have become abandoned in the marine environment. There’s a lot of different types of marine debris out there.

HOST: Where does marine debris come from?

MEGAN FORBES: It comes from everywhere, all over the globe. It’s a direct product of human use. The important thing to know is that you don’t have to live near the ocean to have an effect on marine debris. A lot of people think, “well, I live in the middle of the country, I don’t have an effect on the ocean,” but that’s not really true. Many times the trash is not disposed of properly and it ends up in storm drains or rivers or creeks that eventually make their way out to the ocean.

Water currents and wind action move this debris across our planet and sometimes it ends up back on our beaches and other times it ends up in countries across the globe.  You can see that marine debris moves quite efficiently, unfortunately.  Sometimes it’ll come directly from a ship whether it’s dumped or accidentally goes overboard if there is a shipwreck or something like that. So, as I said, there’s a lot of ways that marine debris enters the water, but there is only one source and that’s human beings.

HOST: We know that marine debris can injure and kill marine life, but how does this happen?

MEGAN FORBES: There are a number of ways that animals can be injured by marine debris. It can be ingested or eaten by marine animals because they mistake it for the food that they commonly see in the water. Animals don’t know what trash is – they don’t produce it, they don’t see anything like that in their environment. So, therefore, it’s the case of something like a floating plastic bag, for example, it looks just like a jellyfish, which is very common food for animals like sea turtles and sharks.

Trash and especially abandoned fishing gear can trap marine animals as they’re swimming along and that’s called becoming entangled. They get wrapped up or entangled in these different substances in either nets or crab traps sometimes different types of trash. And this can be especially a problem for marine mammals and sea turtles because they need to breathe air as we all know. And being entangled in something it makes it difficult for them to rise up to the surface and breathe, so a lot of times they’ll drown. Even animals that don’t breathe air, when they become entangled, it’s a difficulty for them because it reduces their movement through the water and they can become easier prey for predators. So, there’s many different ways that these animals can be injured.

That’s all for today’s Diving Deeper Shorts, where we highlight a few minutes of your favorite Diving Deeper episodes.

Want to learn more? Go to and select the February 2009 podcast archive to listen to the full interview with Megan Forbes on marine debris.

You can catch the next episode of Diving Deeper on September 9.