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

Project Task:CZM logo



Longwood University

Project Title:

Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan Refinement and Implementation of Balloon Reduction Social Marketing Campaign

Project Description:

This task supports the Virginia CZM Program’s commitment to provide leadership in reducing the amount of trash and marine debris from land-based and water-based sources in Virginia through implementation of the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan (VMDRP). The VMDRP, created through a consensus process in 2012-14, outlines politically, socially, and economically feasible strategies and actions that will lead to prevention, interception, innovation, and removal of marine debris for ecological, social, and economic benefits.

This grant will support refinement and continued implementation of the VMDRP, originally funded under FY11 Task 95.03 and subsequently under FY14 Task 95.03 and FY15 Task 95.03. Staff from the Virginia CZM Program and Clean Virginia Waterways (CVW) of Longwood University will engage stakeholders at the local, state and federal level – including government and non-government organizations – and will work together to implement the mid-term priorities as determined by the VA Marine Debris Advisory Committee and described in the VMDRP. Staff will collaborate with stakeholders in Virginia as well as other mid-Atlantic states on development and adoption of marine debris actions. A workshop in social marketing and webinars will further build capacity to support ongoing waste source reduction efforts, and facilitate collaboration and the transfer of knowledge about successful marine debris prevention programs, policies, and campaigns. Further transfer of knowledge will be accomplished through the updating and maintenance of websites (the VA CZM Program web site and CVW) and CVW’s Facebook page.

In addition, staff will begin research to develop arguments (particularly economic ones) that will be compelling to build popular support for legislation and policies that will support waste minimization of the most common items found as marine debris. This research could include the costs incurred by communities, taxpayers, and individuals due to incorrect disposal of trash.

One of the near-term VMDRP priorities is to design and implementation a social marketing campaign titled A Rising Concern: Reducing Balloon Release and Debris through a Social Marketing Campaign (funded by FY14 and FY15 CZM Task 95.03, and a $50,000 grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program). Balloons and their attachments are a deadly and all too common source of marine debris.  Incidental and mass balloon releases are often used as a way to celebrate special occasions or to commemorate the loss of loved ones.  Balloons and their attachments (often made of non-biodegradable plastics) can end up in waterways and ultimately the ocean where marine animals can ingest them or become entangled in them, causing injury and even death. 

This Virginia CZM Program grant will enable the continued engagement of a research firm (OpinionWorks) with an expertise in social marketing to work with Virginia CZM Program and CVW staff in evaluating the results and successes of the social marketing campaign.  The social marketing research firm will also provide feedback to CZM & partners regarding their social marketing skills and knowledge that were developed over the course of the campaign. This grant will also allow for some monitoring of balloon debris to help evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy.

Finally, this Virginia CZM Program grant will allow the VA Marine Debris Advisory Committee to build on the input received during the Second Virginia Marine Debris Summit (March 2016) during which 115 experts in marine debris, litter prevention, and related fields continued the discussion and exchange of research outcomes as well as ideas for future actions.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Katie Register, 434.395.2602,

Project Status:

10/1/16 - 9/30/17; Project Completed

Final Product:

Balloon Litter on Virginia's Remote Beaches (2013-2017) (PDF)

Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan Refinement & Implementation of Balloon Reduction Social Marketing Campaign Final Report (PDF)

Project Summary:

Through this grant, progress was made on implementing many aspects of the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan through collaboration between agencies, local governments, researchers, manufacturers and businesses, non-profits and citizens. CVW worked with a Mid-Atlantic marine debris work group on development of regional approaches to prevent or remove marine debris, including the expansion of a campaign to decrease intentional balloon release events. CVW and CZM Program staff also:

  • Contributed to an inventory of regional marine debris projects, found on the new portal:
  • Contributed to the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Virginia Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide
  • Discussed with the leaders of the clam aquaculture industry, local NGOs, and landowners solutions to remove derelict clam nets when found on Virginia’s beaches.
  • Pursued the possibilities of recycling used clam nets with Terracycle as a better solution instead of land-based disposal of used netting.
  • Supported CVW’s “Keep it Beachy Clean” community outreach program which was developed to influence the behaviors of a key target audience: visitors to beach resorts and beach communities.
  • Further implemented a community-based social marketing campaign targeting behaviors that will reduce balloon litter in the marine environment, leading to a pilot campaign, Joyful Send-off which encourages engaged couples to select litter-free alternatives to balloon releases. 
  • Supported a five-year monitoring effort to understand the abundance, distribution, accumulation and fate of balloon litter in coastal environments. When compared to other trash, balloons ranked as the #1 top marine debris item on the surveyed beaches. The full report can be found here:

Finally, this grant supported an “Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing Workshop” which built the capacity of partners to conduct research and implement campaigns to promote positive environmental attitudes and behaviors and also increase voluntary compliance with anti-litter laws. The workshop was taught by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr, founder of community-based social marketing and author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior. 

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

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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