Marine Debris

plastic-bottle-of-water-sImagine swimming in a sea of plastic. Imagine serving it for dinner alongside your salmon. Unthinkable, right? Absurd, even. But the pervasive amount of marine debris polluting the world’s oceans is no joke, and the health of our marine environment and food systems are increasingly compromised by it. Plastic pollution and other litter in San Diego’s waters pose a serious threat to marine life, which may become entangled in refuse or ingest plastic fragments – thinking they are food. Plastics in our waters and in the fish we rely on for sustenance also pose a threat to human health and safety.

Up to 80 percent of marine debris – the litter and debris we find in our oceans – comes not from being directly dumped into our waters, but inland sources such as industrial outfalls, landfills, littering, dumping and poor waste management. The main types of debris include plastics, glass, metal, polystyrene (StyrofoamTM), rubber, wood, derelict fishing gear and derelict vessels.

It’s a big problem. That’s why San Diego Coastkeeper coordinates monthly beach cleanups, including our Beach Cleanup in a Box and Sponsored Cleanups. We record the types and amounts of debris removed during these cleanups. We use this data from our beach cleanups to influence policy decisions, educate the public and local businesses about litter in San Diego and ask for policy changes to reduce its harmful effects on the environment.


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Ocean-based debris from commercial fishing, shipping, oil sectors, recreational boating and military vessels makes up roughly 20 percent of all marine debris. Marine organisms suffer as they become entangled in debris such as derelict fishing gear like lost fishing lines and traps. Derelict fishing gear can cause wounds, impair mobility, increase vulnerability to predators and strangle marine organisms.

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In addition to removing trash from San Diego’s beaches, we aim to stop marine debris pollution at the source. We fight to reduce the use of disposable, single-use materials such as StyrofoamTM and plastic bottles in the City of San Diego and other cities. From supporting efforts to ban smoking on San Diego beaches, which noticeably impacted the number of butts found at beach cleanups, to working closely with other local non-profits to further a ban single-use plastic bags, we impact San Diego policy and motivate decision makers to think harder about plastics and their place in our city.

Prevention gets the gold star, but litter still haunts San Diego’s beaches, and we could use your help in fighting it. Donate to empower us, check out our volunteer opportunities and make small changes such as using a reusable water bottle, bringing your own grocery bags, and reducing consumption of plastic products to make a huge impact for the environment.

Together, we can work to ensure a cleaner, healthier future for our city, selves and ocean.