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In This Place

Marine Debris is in Our Waters, Even When We Can't See It

Image of microscopic fragment of plastic in the ocean, from a collaborative research paper from three organizations in Woods Hole.

Shopping bags and candy wrappers. Old fishing gear. Storm-shattered docks. Drink cups and straws.

Marine debris comes in many forms. And you know what? The worst of it doesn't appear on our beaches in summer.

Jesse Mechling, Director of Marine Education at the Center for Coastal Studies, says there's a season for trash on our beaches, and it isn't those months when tourists are flocking across the sand.  In the spring and winter months, storms bring greater amounts of debris to our shores, most of it from other places - typically from the Boston area.

Debris finds its way into our streams and oceans with alarming ease. Once there, the threats it can pose to the environment are wide ranging. "One of the biggest problems with marine debris is ingestion,"  Mechling says. "We know that over 200 species of animals have been known to ingest marine debris, namely plastics."

Mechling goes on to say that certain toxins are hydrophobic - meaning they don't like water molecules, but they can attach to plastic molecules. "So marine debris, particularly plastics, can actually accumulate toxins in our environment, which are then ingested - eaten by fish or shellfish - and then work their way up the food chain."

More of Steve Junker's conversation with Jesse Mechling is posted below. Give it a listen.