kahukuMarine debris has been surveyed, monitored, and assessed for many years along coastlines around the world. These areas are accessible and the debris is easily visible. There have been only a handful of published studies on shipboard observations of floating marine debris at sea. Resources, funding, and time limitations as well as an increased safety risk all restrict regular at-sea surveys of marine debris.  Because of these limitations, marine debris surveys at sea have been conducted typically as an add-on to larger at-sea studies.  These opportunities are usually quite rare.

However, there are vessels that sail the world’s oceans regularly, such as the maritime shipping industry, cruise ships, racing yachts, and fishing boats. These regular ocean-goers have, for years, come to port with stories of marine debris encountered or observed at sea, and a few have begun collecting information on their sightings. These “ships of opportunity” may assist researchers in learning more about not only the location, amount, and types of marine debris at sea, but also the characteristics, behavior, and movement of debris on the open ocean.

An At-sea Hazard
Marine debris, especially derelict fishing gear (e.g., ghost nets) in the middle of the ocean pose a hazard not only to wildlife (i.e., entanglement), but also to safe navigation. For years, anecdotal information on the impacts of marine debris at-sea has been noted and recently work has been ongoing to measure these impacts.

Quote about the 2009 TransPac winner Alfa Romeo:Alfa Romeo

“The only issue faced by the crew was the problem of ocean debris. Six times they had to stop – or back down – and take down all the sails so that fishing nets, sheets of plastic and seaweed caught up in floating debris could be removed from the keel and the rudder. Each time they stop it cost more than 30 minutes, or more than three hours in total, around the same time Alfa Romeo came within the multihull record.” Sydney Hobart favourite Alfa Romeo smashes Transpac Race record”; Sat 11 July 2009; Sail-World.com News)