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Making Waves: Episode 75 (May 26, 2011)

You're listening to Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. I'm Troy Kitch. We’ve got a couple of stories for you today. Stay tuned to learn how NOAA is planning to use tracking devices on marine mammals to better understand the ocean; and how a new free app for your iPhone or Android device makes it easy and fun to help researchers track marine debris while you’re visiting the beach this summer.

(World Ocean Day)

But first, a brief announcement about World Ocean Day on June 8th. Do you have some great photos of our oceans and coast you’d like to share on the National Ocean Service website?  Help us celebrate the beauty, mystery, and importance of the ocean by submitting your best ocean photos to us. Sunsets over the water, marine life, ships delivering goods, underwater shots ...we want it all!

You can either post the images on our Facebook wall at  or send them directly to us at

When submitting a photo, include the photographer's name and a short description of when and where the photo was taken and what is shown in the photo. We also ask that photos are at least 300 pixels wide so they’re big enough for all to see.

Before you submit your photo, here are a few rules to keep in mind …

- For the photos you submit, we ask that you ensure that you are the owner of the photo and have the right to publish it.
- By submitting a photo, you are giving us permission to use the photo for other purposes -- on our website and in other NOS publications. Of course, we’ll provide credit to photographers whenever we use any of the photos.
- Photos that are submitted without information on the photographer and a brief caption will not be included.

We'll post the best of the bunch on our website at on June 8, in honor of World Ocean Day.  The deadline for submission is Friday, June 3rd. 


Our first story today is about NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System, called ‘IOOS’ for short. This is a NOAA-led national partnership that ties together all of the different measurements and observations about our ocean collected by NOAA, other federal agencies, states, universities, and a legion of other partners. The ocean’s a big place, so it takes a big collective effort to get information about what’s going on there … and it’s no small task to weave together data from satellites, buoys, tide gauges, radar stations, underwater robots, and other tools. But even with all of these tools, there are still many gaps in what we know about our oceans and coasts. What if we could get a little help from some of the animals that live there?

That’s the idea behind a clever new effort  to make the most of collected ocean data from electronic tags attached to marine mammals like seals and sea lions.  In March, scientists from IOOS and other federal, state, and academic institutions met in Santa Cruz, Calif., to establish a plan for integrating biological observations to the ocean observing system.

The idea is simple – as the marine mammals swim around, their electronic tags will send back detailed information about the water they’re swimming through. This will give researchers a better picture of what’s going on in the ocean to improve things like weather predictions and tide and current models … and it could also help lead to a better understanding of how climate change is affecting our ocean and coasts.

Scientists began widely using marine animal tagging technology in the 1990s on tuna, sharks, sea turtles, seals, whales, salmon, squid, and crustaceans, among others. Sensors track the animals over long distances for time periods ranging from a few days to more than a decade, collecting valuable data below the surface from remote places where conventional ocean sensing techniques won’t work or from areas of the ocean  that are hard to get to.

One of the big challenges with incorporating this new source of ocean data for IOOS is going to be better synchronizing many of the different tagging programs around the nation – and to improve data sharing among all of the ocean-observing partners. IOOS is looking to standardize the recording of these data so that scientists can apply the information more broadly.

In the long run, the addition of biological data into a national system will mean easier access to this information for all scientists. And over time, more scientists using more of this ocean information will help to improve our ocean models and forecasts. Specifically, the addition of this data to IOOS will improve short-term marine and weather forecasts, as well as long-term climate predictions. This data will also help scientists better understand how marine animals move with the flow of tides and currents and how climate change is altering their migration patterns.

Collection of biological data is expected to begin this fall. Check our show notes for links.

(Marine Debris)

Here’s something that will come as no surprise to you: our waterways are littered with trash. Plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing nets, bottles, abandoned crab traps … the list is seemingly endless. This debris is bad for the environment, harms wildlife, and threatens human health and navigation.  Want to help clean this trash up?

Now there’s an app for that.

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and the University of Georgia have teamed up to create a new tool for your iPhone or Android phone that allows you to help combat the marine debris problem.  It’s called the Marine Debris Tracker, and it’s free and ready for download in the iTunes and Android mobile app stores. A version for the Blackberry platform is in the works.

The Marine Debris Tracker allows users to report and record the type and location of debris through GPS features pre-installed on smartphones. The data submitted is posted on a website that allows data to be viewed and downloaded for users to design plans to prevent marine debris. We'll have a link to that site in our show notes.

The developers of the application hope that the Marine Debris Tracker tool will help officials make more-informed decisions about how to reduce marine debris, from supplying more waste management options like trash cans in key areas, to providing recycling and disposal opportunities for fishing gear.  They also hope that this tool will help reach more people to raise awareness of the marine debris problem.

The new app is the first product of new partnership called the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. Members of the initiative include the NOAA Marine Debris Program and a consortium of organizations in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The initiative aims to create collaborative regional strategies that address marine debris prevention, reduction and mitigation.

Again, check our show notes for links for more information about the new Marine Debris Tracker app.


And that's all for this episode.

If you have any questions about this week's podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean — or if you have an ocean fact you'd like answered — send us a note at

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.