Marine Debris on a Barrier Island in the Southeastern United States

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Calhoun, Reid
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Scholarship Sewanee 2022 , University of the South , Marine , Marine Debris , Plastics , St. Catherine's Island , Anthropogenic
Anthropogenic marine debris is a global issue that has significant ecological, societal, and economic impacts on marine and coastal environments. Marine debris is defined as any persistent, manufactured, or processed material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in marine and coastal environments. The five most abundant types of marine debris include: plastic, paper, metal, textile, and glass. Classifications of debris include micro-debris (< 0.5 cm), meso-debris (0.5 – 2.5 cm), and macro-debris (> 2.5 cm). Marine debris commonly is deposited onto beaches of barrier islands where it can injure or kill marine and coastal wildlife and degrade habitats. While the quantification of marine debris has begun to be understood globally, there has been limited research examining the accumulation of marine debris on beaches in the Southeastern United States. The current study examined the abundance of both anthropogenic and natural debris on an uninhabited barrier island off the coast of the Southeastern United States during June 13th to 21st , 2021. St. Catherine’s Island is a private, barrier island off the coast of the state of Georgia, that is eastward facing and has 14.7 miles of beach that are divided into six sections based on dispositional regime and geographic location. A standing stock survey sampled randomly selected transects for macro-debris that were deposited onto the six beach sections. The abundance, categorical compensation, and spatial trends of debris were assessed. Results indicated that debris densities varied by beach location, material, size of debris, and type of terminus habitat. The most abundant type of anthropogenic debris were hard plastics, foam, and flimsy plastics. Distance of debris from the wrack line varied significantly by material type and beach location. Flimsy plastics and filament were located closer to terminus habitats, posing threats to native species. The North beach had the highest average density of debris while the Northeastern beach had the lowest density. The top beach had the highest abundance of debris while the Northeastern beach had the lowest abundance. Differences in debris density and abundance are likely due to depositional regimes and other anthropogenic and natural factors. Results provide baseline information for future studies.