Marine Debris

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is tackling marine debris issues on the Georgia coast and beyond.

Marine debris is one of the world’s most widespread pollution problems. Its prevalence is a critical issue that affects coastal and ocean ecosystems and the organisms that inhabit them. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines marine debris 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.” Marine debris can have negative social, ecological and economic impacts. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant supports marine debris research and provides educational opportunities for citizens on this global environmental issue.

Get Involved

Contact: Dodie Sanders,
Marine Educator
Phone: 912-598-2340
Email sandersd@uga.edu


Microplastics are a form a marine debris defined as fragments of plastic less than five millimeters in size. They originate from larger pieces of solid plastic pollutants that break down or from primary sources such as microbeads found in health products and beauty products.

Microplastics are a threat to our oceans and aquatic life because they appear to be worldwide in distribution and break down very slowly. Microplastics can also bind to harmful pollutants in the ocean and marine animals often mistake them for food.

It is difficult to remove microplastics once they have entered the environment, but there are daily behaviors that citizens can take to alleviate the impacts of marine debris and microplastic pollution. Some of these behaviors including reducing the amount of waste you produce, recycling or reusing items whenever possible, choosing reusable items over disposable ones, redesigning items to make them last longer and participating in marine debris cleanups.

Current Projects

Studying the abundance and distribution of microplastics in Georgia waters
Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Jay Brandes is leading a two-year study on estimating the distribution and abundance of microplastics along the Georgia coast. With funding from Georgia Sea Grant, Brandes and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s marine educator Dodie Sanders are collecting and analyzing water samples throughout coastal Georgia’s waterways. From rural to urban areas, they have found microplastics in samples collected.  Interestingly, they have found that microfibers, or extremely fine synthetic fibers used to create textiles, dominate the types of microplastics found in Georgia’s estuaries. Learn more about the study here or watch this video featuring Jay Brandes discussing his work.

In an effort to increase awareness about this research and the impacts of microplastics, Sanders has developed several marine debris programs for high school students and educational resources for teachers that focus on marine debris. These resources are applicable to K-12 classrooms and can be found below under the “teaching resources” tab.

Trawl to Trash
In an effort to prevent litter from entering the marine environment, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant launched the Trawl to Trash program, which engages the public in outreach and stewardship activities that educate communities about the impacts of marine debris and encourage use of the recycled trawl bags to collect and remove debris from Georgia’s waterways. As part of the project, commercial shrimpers are creating Trawl to Trash bags made of recycled shrimp net material. The bags are distributed among recreational boaters, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, ecotourists, K-12 students and the general public who use the bags to stow their trash, so it doesn’t enter the environment. Learn more.

Volunteers sample microplastics from the Georgia coast.

Engaging community scientists in microplastics research on the Georgia coast
Sanders has also created a citizen science microplastics monitoring program, inviting community members to gain awareness of local marine debris issues and to get involved in environmental stewardship efforts. Activities include implementing  marine debris survey programs on Wassaw Island, participating in microplastics training and regular monitoring in Georgia’s coastal rivers and estuaries and at selected Adopt-A-Stream sites and sharing findings through trainings, lectures, conferences and educational outreach programs. The goal of the program is to directly engage or impact 10,000 citizens per year through providing pollution education, microplastic monitoring, a platform to showcase these efforts and an opportunity for citizens to help alleviate the impacts of non-point source pollution through environmental stewardship. If you’re interested in learning more about this citizen science program, contact Dodie Sanders at sandersd@uga.edu.

Teaching Resources

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