Marine Debris

Marine debris is a growing concern around the world. From our beaches to our waters, litter, microplastics, and other man-made products are making their way into aquatic environments. More research is necessary to determine the full extent of potential long-term impacts.


Kari St. Laurent, Ph.D.
Research Coordinator

Delaware Coastal Programs leads research, volunteer, and educational efforts for marine debris in order to understand where it exists and in what quantities so that we can make changes to improve the coastal environment.

DNREC Perspectives

Boat with floating marine debris

Marine Debris can be harmful to humans, wildlife, and the physical environment.

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Marine Debris Research


Microplastics are plastic pieces smaller than five millimeters, which include fragments of plastic trash, tiny synthetic fibers, and microbeads. They have become an emerging concern in the environment because of the length of time that it takes plastic particles to break down and the risks they pose to marine organisms.

Delaware Coastal Programs is developing a standard method to detect and measure microplastics in beach sands, surface waters, and marine sediments. This will help us understand the types and quantities of microplastics in the coastal environment and identify potential sources.

Cooperative Marine Debris Efforts

Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean is a partnership established by the Governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia to address shared regional priorities and provide a collective voice in the areas of climate change adaptation, marine habitats, renewable energy, and water quality challenges and opportunities. Water quality impairments, like plastic and microplastic pollution, negatively impact ecosystem function and quality of life in coastal communities.

Crab Confidently

Learn how to properly rig your crab pot for recreational crabbing following Delaware’s regulations to protect diamondback terrapins.

Derelict Crab Pot Removal

The blue crab fishery is the largest commercial fishing industry in Delaware, with an annual revenue of over $5 million. Over the course of decades, thousands of crab pots have been abandoned in Delaware waters. These derelict pots, commonly referred-to as “ghost pots,” can cause habitat damage and continue to trap and kill organisms like crabs, turtles, and fish long after they’ve stopped being tended to.

Delaware Coastal Programs is mapping derelict crab pots, using grant funds from NOAA. This information helps people stop crab pots from becoming ghost pots.

Coastal Cleanup Efforts

Each September, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control organizes Delaware’s annual Coastal Cleanup as part of the large Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup. Several divisions within the Department captain beaches all along the coast from New Castle to Sussex County as part of this global volunteer effort to help clean our beaches. The data collected from this event is used to help us learn more about marine debris impacts on our coasts.

The Department works with volunteers in the Adopt-A-Beach program to protect and enhance Delaware’s beaches through additional cleanup efforts while also educating and informing citizens of the responsibilities of environmental stewardship.

To prevent coastal pollution, Delaware State Parks are carry in – carry out areas. The Department also encourages the use of reusable bags and recycling where appropriate.

Plastic in the Ocean Infographic

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