Marine Debris Tracker

cropped-MDT_SandwritingSummer is here and millions of people worldwide will be heading to beaches and waterways for sun and fun. Will they find clean beaches and clear waterways?

With bottles, cans, abandoned or lost fishing gear and other marine debris washing up on our shores each year, the University of Georgia and NOAA have teamed up to create a new, innovative cell phone reporting mechanism to combat the marine debris problem. This high-tech tool, or app, tracks where marine debris is accumulating and gives anyone with a “smart phone” an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

The easy-to-use Marine Debris Tracker app can be downloaded free for use on iPhones and Android phones. The simple tool allows users to report the type of debris and its location through GPS features pre-installed on a cell phone. The data reported are posted at for viewing and downloading. The app also encourages users to recycle or properly dispose of the trash they find.

howlongJenna Jambeck, assistant professor for the Faculty of Engineering at UGA and one of the app’s developers, says the app is one way the initiative is trying to reach people and raise awareness of marine debris.

Marine debris can kill or injure wildlife when animals ingest it or become entangled in it. The debris can also have an economic impact on the tourism industry and other coastal businesses by affecting the beauty and cleanliness of beaches and waterways.

Jambeck and codeveloper Kyle Johnsen, her colleague from the Faculty of Engineering at UGA, hope that the Marine Debris Tracker tool will help officials make decisions about how to handle marine trash — from supplying extra trash cans to providing opportunities to recycle or dispose of abandoned or lost fishing line and other gear.

Marine Debris Tracker does not have to be used within 3G, wifi, or cell range. Since the majority of debris tracking might take place in remote areas or even on the water, you can log and track as many items as you want and store the data. Then you can upload them later once you are back in 3G/wifi/cell signal.

Marine Debris Tracker is designed exactly for beach cleanup data collection. Instead of the paper data card you would normally use to mark items you find, you simply open the app on your phone, choose items from the list as you find them and log them. The list of items you found will be sent to our database once you submit your data from that day.

Marine Debris Tracker can be used for regular beach cleanups or just log any debris item you see when you casually visit the beach. If you feel it is safe, you can also pick it up and recycle or dispose of it properly. Do not try to pick up large items, dead animals or anything that you suspect to be hazardous. You can also follow some very general guidelines. Try to pick a beach location that you can monitor regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) at the same general time. Then walk the same area (both horizontally and vertically) each time using Marine Debris Tracker to log (and hopefully picking up using gloves and a trash bag) the debris items that you find. You might want to make note of any major storm events or any other noticeable factors (wind, etc.) that might be influencing the debris that day. You can keep track of your marine debris data over time and then examine trends, etc. These are good activities for students to conduct too.