Don’t Trash Our Sea

Help prevent marine debris from ruining the environment.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary reminds everyone that marine debris are everyone’s concern and everyone’s problem. Debris generally originates, from two distinct sources, the sea (and inland waterways) and land. Ocean/inland waterways-based sources include boats and ships including the smallest sailboat to the largest container ship, along with offshore rigs and drilling platforms. Land-based sources include, sewer overflows and storm drains, landfills, manufacturing and sewage treatment plants and beachgoers. About 80% of debris originates onshore with 20% coming from offshore sources. Some marine debris persist in marine environments for a very long time – Mylar balloons (centuries), derelict fishing gear (centuries), plastic bags (centuries), cigarette butts (2 – 10 years), monofilament line (600 years), plastic bottles (450 years), 6-pack holder (400 years), aluminum cans (200 – 500 years), and Styrofoam buoy (80 years).

Balloons exposed to seawater deteriorated much slower than if exposed to air. Even after 12 months in salt water they retained their elasticity. What goes up must come down! Balloons lighting on land or sea can be mistaken for prey and eaten by animals. Balloons in an aquatic environment can look a great deal like jellyfish—a major source of food for many animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs.

Mylar balloons reflective light and can, be mistaken for a distress signal. Rescuers can waste valuable resources investigating what from several miles away can appear to be a distress signal. In some jurisdictions, the mass release of balloons is illegal.
What You Can Do to Reduce Marine Debris**


-Never intentionally discard any item into the marine environment

-Tie it down, secure it, stow it

-Secure all plastic wrap and packaging


-Reduce, reuse, and recycle

-Properly dispose of trash and fishing gear

-Participate in coastal cleanup programs


-Buy recycled products with little or no packaging

-Keep cigarette butts off streets and beaches

-Cut the rings in plastic six pack holders


-Set a good example and educate others about marine debris.

Under federal law, it is illegal for any vessel to discharge plastics or garbage containing plastics into any waters. Additional restrictions on dumping non-plastic waste are outlined below. Regional, state or local laws may place further restrictions on the disposal of garbage. ALL discharge of garbage is prohibited in the Great Lakes or their connecting or tributary waters. Each violation of these requirements may result in a fine of up to $500,000 and 6 years imprisonment.

In lakes, rivers, bays, sounds and up to 3 miles offshore it is illegal to dump:

-All garbage

From 3 to 12 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump:


-Dunnage, lining and packing materials that floats

-All other trash if not ground to less that 1″

From 12 to 25 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump:


-Dunnage, lining and packing materials that float

Outside 25 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump: