Capstone Title

Marine Debris in Coastal Habitats: Can Environmental Protection Reduce Fishing and Non-Fishing Debris?

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Joana Figueiredo

Second Advisor

Richard Spieler


The impact of marine debris in coastal environments is an increasing threat to marine life. In response to the suite of assaults and continuous degradation of coral reefs and shorelines, scientists are working to understand the processes, transport, deposition, accumulation, and effects of debris in the marine ecosystem. While marine debris research is increasing, the knowledge of its role in the marine ecosystems is limited. The objective of this study was to investigate whether shoreline and marine protection reduces marine debris in coastal habitats of Southeast Florida. An extensive scientific literature review in combination with field experiments and data analysis revealed that shoreline protection cannot decrease presence of debris on shorelines or on coral reef ecosystems. There were no significant differences in debris densities across protected and non-protected beaches. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary were found to have higher debris densities within its boundaries than non-protected waters along the northern area of the Florida Reef Tract. Utilizing shoreline surveys coupled with the NOAA Fisheries Reef Fish Visual Census’s marine debris database helped identify areas of most concern for shoreline and submerged marine debris. This study also assisted in determining whether the present management and regulations to decrease debris (if present) from the environment are effective. Understanding the high variability of factors that affect distributions of debris is essential for developing effective management, compliance and enforcement. This study aims to assist improving local management of marine debris in protected areas, identify localities of debris for removal efforts, help identify efficient debris surveying methodology and aid in efforts for remediation towards a severely destructive threat to our oceans and coastlines.

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