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Virginia CZM Program: 2013 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation

Project Title:

Monitoring Marine Debris in Virginia's Coastal Zone

Project Description as Proposed:

Growing concern about the impacts of marine debris in the ocean and coastal waters, along with increasing emphasis on stormwater management of litter and debris, have led to a new urgency to understand and address the sources of marine debris in Virginia’s coastal waters. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marine debris has become one of the most widespread pollution problems in the world’s oceans and waterways. Monitoring marine debris is necessary so we can understand sources, locations, amounts, movement, impacts, and accumulation rates, and so we can also evaluate the effectiveness of educational outreach, pollution prevention, and policies that are put in place to reduce this form of pollution. Monitoring data will also facilitate regional and site-specific comparisons over time, and will provide insights into priority targets for prevention.

Participants of the Virginia Marine Debris Summit (February 27-28, 2013 in Virginia Beach) discussed many gaps in our knowledge about marine debris, including the need for high-value data about the quantity and types of marine debris found on Virginia’s beaches. While extensive data exists about the types of litter and trash found in Virginia’s waterways, beaches and coastal waters, these data are of the “snapshot” variety, and need to be supplemented by data collected using a more rigorous protocol. This grant project will use the Marine Debris Shoreline Survey protocols developed by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Project Description
This project will use NOAA’s Marine Debris Shoreline Survey protocol to collect data on the quantities and types of marine debris found in Virginia’s coastal zone. Accumulation Surveys will be conducted at four study sites, and Standing Stock Surveys will be conducted at four other study sites. We anticipate that four beaches will be selected for this project, and each of them will have two survey sites. Locations being considered are Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (all managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and a fourth site in the Virginia Beach area to be determined.

Project Objectives
The objectives of this project are to initiate a monitoring program, recruit and train volunteer monitors, collect nine months of data (to include one hurricane season, summer/fall 2014), analyze the data, and develop a plan to continue monitoring after this grant period. In addition, we will develop and strengthen partnerships with pollution-prevention nonprofits, ocean advocacy organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. The data will serve as a baseline against which Virginia can evaluate the effectiveness of its Marine Debris Management plan being developed with FY11 CZM funds.

While this project is new, two of the proposed sites (Chincoteague and Back Bay) were part of a previous marine debris monitoring research project: the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program (NMDMP), that was conducted by Ocean Conservancy and funded by EPA between September 2001 and September 2006.

Fiscal Management
This project will be administered by the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation, Inc. (VAQF). As project manager for VAQF, Susan Barco will be responsible for budget management, including the initiation and oversight of all subcontracts. 

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Susan Barco, 757.385.6476; 

Project Status:

1/1/2014 - 3/31/15; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Monitoring Marine Debris in Virginia's Coastal Zone Project Report (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

With support from the NOAA Office for Coastal Management through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and Clean Virginia Waterways (Longwood University) conducted 30 months of systematic marine debris monitoring on four coastal beaches in Virginia. The study sites were Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (BBNWR) in Virginia Beach; Grandview Nature Preserve (GNP) in Hampton, Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge (FINWR) in Northampton County, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR) in Accomack County.


Efficient use of resources throughout the project allowed for the original timeline of 18 months to be extended for an additional 12 months. The extended project study period of 30 months included three Atlantic hurricane seasons, though no hurricanes made landfall in Virginia during this period. With additional funding from NOAA (Grant # NA16NOS4190171), a new phase of this project was initiated on October 1, 2016, including continued monthly monitoring of the four coastal beach study sites. As a result, this project report will not include a final analysis of survey data, but instead will provide an interim report on the first 30 months of marine debris monitoring in Virginia. A final report will be produced after monitoring is completed under the new grant.


During the completed 30 month study period, a total of 125 accumulation surveys and 125 standing stock surveys were conducted: 64 surveys at BBNWR, and 62 each at CNWR, FINWR and GNP. More than 1,400 hours of effort were contributed by volunteer monitors. Though not all survey data have been entered, preliminary results indicate that 6,777 pieces of debris have been documented and entered into the NOAA online database. The vast majority (83%) of debris items recorded at the four monitoring sites were made of plastics, and 51% of the debris was found on one of the four sites: FINWR. Debris is classified into the following categories on the NOAA Shoreline Debris Survey Data Sheet: plastic, metal, glass, rubber, processed lumber (no natural wood), cloth/fabric and other/unclassifiable. Wood products (including lumber, cardboard, paper and building materials) comprised 7% of debris items, followed by metal at 4%, glass at 3%, cloth at 2% and rubber at 1%. It should be noted that the Ocean Conservancy estimates that 84% of all items collected during the International Coastal Cleanup are made up of plastic (Mallos, 2016), and this project’s data indicate a nearly identical percentage.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to




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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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