Marine Debris

Marine debris is any human-created waste that has entered the marine environment. Most of the debris comes from land-based sources, occurring as easily as someone littering a cigarette butt or soda can. A large and disturbing amount of marine debris is comprised of plastics and other materials that resist natural degradation. Debris in our oceans kills and injures wildlife, spreads invasive species, leaches pollutants, and endangers human health. Our conservation commitment includes monitoring, collecting and reporting marine debris found in our oceans, as well as helping to keep Maui’s beaches and parks tobacco-free.


Pacific Whale Foundation researchers began a marine debris study in 2013, documenting and removing debris from the leeward waters of Maui, Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i and Moloka‘i. In 2015, we piloted a citizen science program to enhance public involvement and help raise awareness. Our partners include local community groups, schools, corporate sponsors, and Volunteers on Vacation program participants.

Today, with the help of the public, we have removed over 50,000 pieces of marine debris, and have documented these items in our Marine Debris Photo Catalog.

Images of marine debris found in the field



You can participate in our Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring Program as a volunteer citizen scientist. Simply pick up your supplies (gloves, recycled bag, and a datasheet) at Pacific Whale Foundation in either Lahaina or Maʻalaea, and then head out to clean up any part of Maui’s coastline. Be sure to complete and return your datasheet to help contribute to our marine debris database which will be used to guide mitigation and prevention measures in Maui County.