Report: Behavioral Change, Prevention Can Eliminate Marine Debris

"A Rising Tide of Ocean Debris and What We Can Do about It," which was released March 10, features the Ocean Conservancy's annual Marine Debris Index – the world’s only country-by-country, state-by-state analysis of trash in ocean and waterways.

According to the organization, the trash was collected and the data recorded by the nearly 400,000 volunteers around the world who combed local beaches and waterways during the 23rd International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers removed nearly seven million (6.8 million) pounds of debris, from 6,485 sites in 104 countries and 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. This year’s report zeroes in on the hazardous impacts of trash on wildlife and the resilience of the oceans in the wake of rising sea levels, warming, and acidification.

“Our ocean is sick, and our actions have made it so. We simply cannot continue to put our trash in the ocean. The evidence turns up every day in dead and injured marine life, littered beaches that discourage tourists, and choked ocean ecosystems,” said Vikki Spruill, president and chief executive officer. “By changing behaviors and policies, individuals, companies, and governments can help improve the health of our ocean, the Earth’s life support system.”

Armed with knowledge about the most prevalent components of marine debris, elected officials can make informed policy decisions, community leaders can tailor and expand recycling and other trash-reduction programs, corporate decision makers can improve technology and reduce packaging, and individuals can recycle, reuse, or properly dispose of trash to keep these items out of the ocean.

The 2008 International Coastal Cleanup, by the numbers:

  • About half of the 390,881 volunteers were from the United States; the Philippines, Canada and Japan had the greatest volunteer turnout internationally.
  • 443 animals were found entangled or trapped by marine debris, of those, 268 were found alive and released.
  • Volunteers collected 11.4 million items in all, from cigarette butts to grocery bags to food wrappers.
  • Volunteers tracked 43 items during the Cleanup; the top three most frequently found items were cigarette butts, plastic bags, and food wrappers/containers. The Top 10 items have remained the same over the past five years.
  • Volunteers collected 1,362,741 cigarette butts in the United States; 19,504 fishing nets in the United Kingdom; and 11,077 diapers in the Philippines.

Visit to download the report. The next cleanup will be Sept. 19.