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3_Wakame kelp_OR_Japan_Floating_Dock_OSU

Marine debris is a mix of materials, and can include plastic, nylon, wood, metal, and glass. Debris materials can be found free-floating at the surface of the ocean, within the water column, lying on the bottom, or littering shorelines. In addition to the unsightliness of marine debris, there are many serious and potentially damaging associated impacts. Ingestion, entanglement, ghost fishing, economic loss, habitat damage, vessel damage, and the introduction of invasive species are all potential impacts associated with marine debris. Aquatic species associate themselves with marine debris in a number of ways that stem directly from their natural ability to adjust and acclimate to changing conditions. More than 1,200 species of sessile and motile organisms are associated with natural and human-made debris from sources all over the globe. Microorganisms, such as bacteria and microalgae, colonize the surfaces of marine debris, creating a biofilm that attracts pathogens and harmful algal bloom species. Other organisms, such as mollusks and barnacles, attach to the surface of marine debris (encrust or biofoul). Mobile species can hitchhike or hang on to marine debris. And some terrestrial species raft, or float, on top of marine debris. The potential risk of invasion from marine debris is based on the following evidence:

  • The amount of debris in the ocean is increasing.

  • Organisms from distant shores are found attached to or associated with marine debris.

  • Some of the organisms associated with debris are known invaders.

  • Debris loads are heaviest in populated areas.

  • Large pieces of debris can harbor more organisms and can float long distances.

  • Extreme events such as cyclonic storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis can produce enormous amounts of debris.

  • During the introduction of a non-native species, increased numbers of individuals may increase the chances of invasion success.​​​​​

Note: The information on this page was extracted from: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program. 2017. Report on Marine Debris as a Potential Pathway for Invasive Species. Silver Spring, MD: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program.

Photo credits: Hatfield Marine Science Center.


To reduce the potential for marine debris to serve as a pathway for invasive species, NOAA recommends the following:

  • Work with the National Invasive Species Council to integrate marine debris into the National Invasive Species Management Plan.


  • Develop targeted approaches to reduce the potential spread of invasive species via marine debris.

    • Regionally:

      • Identify major debris generation points.

        • Work with regional agencies to engage the responsible parties to reduce and eliminate debris at its source.

      • Identify operations or generation points that consistently release the same type of debris (i.e. aquaculture or fishing operations).

      • Identify new types of gear or new practices that will reduce or eliminate the release of the debris.

      • Conduct beach and river sweeps; network with beach cleanups to gather data on encrusters and growth rates on debris and provide debris to the scientific community for analysis.

    • Globally:

      • Identify large pieces of debris in the ocean.

        • Explore international efforts to mark and track (GPS) the large items.

        • Remove large items if feasible.

      • Disaster Debris:

        • As part of an overall emergency response plan/standard operating procedure:

          • Compile a listing of large resources, facilities, vessels, docks, etc. that are unaccounted for in the aftermath of the event.

          • Use models and remote sensing technologies to find and/or predict the location of large floating debris.

          • Explore international efforts to mark and track (GPS) the large items.

          • Remove large items if feasible.

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