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Virginia CZM Program: 2016 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation

Project Title:

Monitoring and Assessment of Marine Debris in Virginia’s Coastal Zone

Project Description:

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 Summits (February 2013 and March 2016) 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 continue to monitor four index sites along Virginia’s coast utilizing 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 continue to collect data on the quantities and types of marine debris found in Virginia’s coastal zone. Accumulation Surveys and Standing Stock Surveys will be conducted at the four study sites. Four beaches have been selected and these study sites will have been surveyed for 30 consecutive months prior to the start of this project. Beach study sites are located at the following locations which span the north-to-south range of the Virginia coastline: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, Grandview Nature Preserve and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Project Objectives
The objectives of this project are to continue a monitoring program that has been in place for 30 months by adding 15 additional survey months to the Virginia data set. The project team will continue to recruit and train volunteer monitors to assist the survey coordinator. With these added survey months, the final project report will include analysis of data from nearly four years of monthly surveys, encompassing four Atlantic hurricane seasons. The final months of this study period will be utilized by the project team to conduct detailed analysis of the data and produce a final report, including the development of a strategy to continue index site monitoring and data collection after this grant period has ended. In addition, we will continue to develop and strengthen partnerships with pollution-prevention nonprofits, ocean advocacy organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. The comprehensive data generated from the project will serve as a baseline against which Virginia can evaluate the effectiveness of its Marine Debris Reduction Plan that was completed in late 2014.

Fiscal Management
This project will be administered by the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation, Inc. (VAQF). As project supervisor for VAQF, Mark Swingle 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:

10/1/16 - 3/31/18; Project Completed

Final Product:

Monitoring Marine Debris in Virginia's Coastal Zone Project Report: April 2014 - June 2018 (PDF) 

Project Summary:

Human-made debris in the world’s rivers, coastal waters and oceans (marine debris) is a fast-growing threat that requires urgent action. Marine debris has been shown to impact marine animals and critical habitat, as well as having economic and societal costs. How can communities, government agencies, NGOs, and others best understand the extent of marine debris in order to craft effective prevention policies and campaigns? The answer begins with systematic and regular monitoring and collection of data about the marine debris on coastal beaches in order to: identify hotspots of debris accumulation; understand the products and material types that are most frequently found on beaches; reveal temporal and spatial trends; and understand the scope of the marine debris problem.

For more than four years (April 2014 through June 2018), a project team including the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University, Christina Trapani Consulting, and its cooperating partners conducted monthly surveys of marine debris at four monitoring sites on coastal beaches in Virginia. The project team conducted 54 days of surveys on Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach; 51 survey days on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Accomack County; 50 survey days on Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge in Northampton County, and 52 survey days on Grandview Nature Preserve in Hampton. During each site visit, two different survey types were conducted – an Accumulation Survey and a Standing-Stock Survey. Accumulation Surveys measure the “flux” of debris over time, while the Standing-Stock Surveys measure the concentration or density of debris over time.

During the project survey period, a total of 15,276 pieces of debris were documented, and the vast majority (83.0%) were composed of plastic. The Fisherman Island NWR site accounted for 55.5% of the total debris items – more than the other three sites combined. When examining sources of materials, the majority were from land-based sources (84.5%) vs. water-based sources (15.5%), with the predominant descriptive grouping being food- and beverage-related debris. Volunteers contributed more than 2,135 hours during the project and played an essential role in allowing surveys to be completed in manageable periods of time, especially considering that surveys were designed to be conducted during low tide.

The data collected from this project supports the goals of the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan and can help managers develop strategies to effectively remove debris, especially from beaches that are home to endangered or threatened species.

Support for this marine debris monitoring project was provided by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management through two grants from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation (Grants #NA13NOS4190135, Task #81 and # NA16NOS4190171, Task #81). Copies of the final report can be found at the following links:

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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