We’re spending March talking all about marine debris and its types, sources, impacts, and solutions. Tune in throughout the month to learn more about this important topic and how we can all be part of the effort to make our lives and our ocean #DebrisFree.
Marine debris can have many negative effects on us and our environment. One potential impact of debris which is often overlooked is marine debris’ potential to assist in the spread of non-native, and potentially invasive, species. Non-native species, or animals that are not from a certain area or meant to be there, have the potential to become harmful and invasive. If that happens, these invasive animals can start using the local resources in an unsustainable way, or in a way that may negatively impact those animals that do belong.
Global shipping generally draws the greatest amount of attention regarding the potential to transport marine invasives, but we must also consider the potential role that marine debris may play in introducing non-native species that may become invasive. As marine debris travels in our global ocean, it is possible for “hitchhikers” to attach themselves to the debris, catching a ride to wherever that debris ends up—which sometimes can be very far away. This was a major concern as debris from Japan began to wash ashore the Western United States following the tsunami in 2011.
Thankfully, as we work to decrease the debris in our ocean, the amount of debris available for this transport will start to decrease. You can do your part by reducing your contribution to the debris influx and making sure you follow the 4Rs whenever possible: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse. If you’d like to get even more involved, take part in or organize a shoreline cleanup and spread the word about the issue to others!
Read more about this topic in the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s 2017 report, Invasive Species: Marine Debris as a Potential Pathway for Invasive Species, which reviews the scientific literature that exists on the subject and identifies areas where more research is needed.