Marine Debris Issues in Maryland and Beyond

A bird entangled in balloons lying on a stony beach. Photo by Christine  McGuinness.Clean-Virginia-WaterwaysThree people walking on the beach with garbage bags picking up marine debris.

Marine debris is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. Anything man-made, including litter and fishing gear, can become marine debris once lost, discarded, or washed into the aquatic environment. The most common materials that make up marine debris are plastics, glass, metal, paper, cloth, rubber, and wood. Marine debris is a complex global problem with disturbing impacts to aquatic life and our environment. Research has also shown that very small pieces of marine debris (called "microplastics" and "microfibers") are present in our drinking water, sea salt, and seafood.

Resources to learn more:

Preventing Balloon Litter

Mylar Balloon Study Handout

Between 2018-2021 Maryland will be participating in a NOAA Marine Debris Prevention Grant project with the states of Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York to prevent balloon litter in the Mid-Atlantic region. Balloons are unique among all the man-made litter and debris found in the ocean and on the land. Helium-filled balloons (and their attachments including plastic valves, disks and ribbons) are a form of litter that people purchase with the intent to release them “on purpose” into the environment. Learn more about this project by visiting the links below.

Preventing Single-Use Plastics

Between April 2018 through March 2019 CCS has been leveraging federal Coastal Zone Management funding to implement a pilot study to work with restaurants on Solomons Island, Maryland, to reduce plastic waste. The PlasticWatch project is being led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. With the PlasticWatch project, scientists are working with area restaurants to “make the switch” from common, single-use petroleum-based plastics, such as straws and take-out containers, to compostable and biodegradable products in an effort to keep harmful plastics out of waterways.

Clean Marina Initiative

The Maryland Clean Marina Initiative, administered through the Department, recognizes and promotes marinas, boatyards and yacht clubs of any size that meet legal requirements and voluntarily adopt pollution prevention practices. To learn more visit:

Abandoned Boat and Debris Program

The Department provides reimbursable grants and expertise to assist public agencies in the removal of abandoned boats and debris from state waters. Funds for the program come from the state Waterway Improvement Fund, which is generated from a one-time 5% excise tax paid to the State when a boat is purchased and titled in Maryland. To learn more visit:

Research Needs

Maryland-specific studies – If you are embarking on research on plastics, microplastics, microfibers, or marine debris in general and you are in the Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, or Mid-Atlantic region, please contact us and let us know about your research!

Help us track the trash – Anytime you participate in a trash cleanup event, please document your findings! There are a variety of free apps to help you track your trash, including the Marine Debris Tracker, Clean Swell, and Litteratti, or you can simply create a tally of the items you find and input them into the International Coastal Cleanup database.

For more information about this issue in Maryland, contact​