Foundation and NOAA Announce Ocean Odyssey Marine Debris Awards for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Accessibility

Silver Spring, Md. – April 4, 2024The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, have awarded twelve grants through the Ocean Odyssey Marine Debris Awards for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Accessibility, to support communities that are underserved, underrepresented, or overburdened and promote initiatives that investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris. The projects include marine debris prevention, research, monitoring, detection, response, removal, and coordination activities.  

Marine debris is a widespread problem that can impact marine life, their habitat, and coastal communities. Marine debris can threaten human health and safety; reduce the quality of life in coastal areas; degrade habitats; cause economic loss to tourism, fisheries, and maritime activities; and injure and kill marine life due to entanglement or ingestion. Marine debris can take many forms, including items that come from activities that take place on land, such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, foam take-out containers, and balloons, as well as ocean-based debris, such as derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels.  

Addressing harmful marine debris is a key pillar of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s mission to conserve special places and support a healthy ocean and coasts. As federally designated areas of national significance, national marine sanctuaries are critical places to focus efforts to protect and restore our ocean. Through programs like Goal: Clean Seas and Washington CoastSavers, the Foundation works with NOAA and other partners across the National Marine Sanctuary System to coordinate specialized marine debris removal activities and engage and empower local communities and Tribal Nations in stewardship activities that contribute to the success of debris removal, long-term ecosystem restoration efforts, and marine debris awareness and prevention through education and outreach.   

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the NOAA Marine Debris Program are committed to providing funding opportunities across the coastal United States, Great Lakes, territories, and Freely Associated States. For over 10 years, this partnership has leveraged the public-private partnership to enhance America’s ability to address impacts of marine debris and to support our national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments.  

Joel R. Johnson, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “Diverse communities bring diverse solutions to tackling the challenges we face in our waters. Marine debris harms the biodiversity of our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes and we must work together to make the vision of healthier, cleaner waters a reality.  These 12 outstanding projects explore and showcase solutions in how we safeguard these special places.” 

“The NOAA Marine Debris Program is excited to partner with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to award funding to 12 projects in the inaugural Ocean Odyssey Marine Debris Awards for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Accessibility competition,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. “These projects will support marine debris removal, interception, prevention, research, and monitoring efforts in communities that have historically been underserved.” 

This year, a total of twelve Ocean Odyssey Marine Debris Awards grants were awarded a total of $84,136 to fund their projects. All projects will take place from April 2024 through March 2025. Learn more about the projects described below.


Ocean Odyssey Marine Debris Award Grantees   


Akiak Native Community (Alaska) 

Project Name: “Akiak Organized Riverbank Clean-Up” 

The Akiak Native Community will remove debris resulting from extreme riverbank erosion that has occurred in Akiak Alaska over the past decade. The Akiak Native Community will lead work to remove debris along the riverbank and thereby prevent debris from flowing down the Kuskokwim River to the Kuskokwim Bay and Bering Sea.  

Elizabeth River Project (Virginia) 

Project Name: “C.L.E.A.N. Youth Remove Elizabeth River Marine Debris in Norfolk, Virginia” 

The Elizabeth River Project will mentor, train, and engage youth from ages 10-25 to remove marine debris and litter in the underserved communities of Berkley and Campostella in Norfolk, Virginia. They will work with partners to mentor these youth to develop leadership and stewardship skills and will involve them in the organization of local marine debris cleanups. 

Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Michigan) 

Project Name: “Marine debris collection and data analysis on Great Lakes shorelines” 

Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary will conduct research, detection, monitoring, collection, and analysis of marine debris on Lake Huron shorelines with various student groups and educators in northeast Michigan. Engaging underserved youth in rural communities is a priority for this project as it will help educate, protect, and preserve the Lake Huron shorelines for the future. 

Gullah/Geechee Legacy (North Carolina to Florida) 

Project Name: Expansion of the Gullah/Geechee Coastal Removal Engaging Artists Through Environmental (CREATE) Action Project 

Gullah/Geechee Legacy will expand the Gullah/Geechee Coastal Removal Engaging Artists Through Environmental Action project beyond South Carolina and into the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Native Gullah/Geechee leaders and citizens will plan and lead community outreach and engagement sessions and Native Gullah/Geechee artisans will assist with intergenerational artwork activities at outreach and education events. 

Kewalo Marine Laboratory (American Samoa) 

Project Name: “Increasing Ocean Literacy through Exploration of Corals Eating Microplastics” 

Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa aims to study coral ingestion of microplastics in American Samoa. By gathering data and hosting experiential learning workshops, this initiative will enhance ocean literacy while addressing the urgent need for information about the impact of microplastics on corals, preserving invaluable cultural, economic, and ecological resources provided by corals.  

Mystic River Watershed Association (Massachusetts) 

Project Name: “Trash, Stormwater, and Marine Debris Curriculum – Experiential Field Trips”  

Mystic River Watershed Association will enhance the experiential learning components of an existing K–8 curriculum on trash in the Mystic River watershed and the connection to marine debris and plastics. Through the addition of field trips and local trash removal events, approximately 100 afterschool students in three underserved communities will engage in place-based explorations of the impacts of trash on stormwater, rivers, and the ocean.  

Native Village of Afognak (Alaska) 

Project Name: “Catcher Beach Clean-Up”  

Native Village of Afognak will coordinate and carry out a marine debris cleanup at Catcher Beach on Afognak Island. Alaska Native youth and interns will clean up the beach and existing trails in Afognak Village, which are important areas for the tribal community. 

Research Foundation of CUNY- Queens College (New York) 

Project Name: “Assessing marine debris to foster STEM engagement and environmental stewardship” 

Research Foundation of CUNY – Queens College will train four students to assess the amount of microplastics in water and marine debris on the shoreline in northeast Queens, New York. In addition, this project will recruit volunteers from the community to assist in shoreline clean up events. The resulting project data will be shared to increase STEM engagement and promote environmental stewardship. 

Resilience Education Training and Innovation (RETI) Center (New York) 

Project Name: “RETI Center Marine Debris Field Kit: A Pilot Program” 

Resilience Education Training and Innovation (RETI) Center LLP will educate residents to take action in the local urban watershed to create a more livable coastline for an environmental justice community. The project will support student stipends for local youth to count and document the marine debris collected from a new interception device at the RETI Center Field Station. 

San Diego Audubon Society (California) 

Project Name: “South San Diego Bay Marine Debris Removal Event” 

San Diego Audubon Society will engage more than 100 residents of San Diego’s underserved South Bay communities to remove 450 pounds of marine debris from the wetland habitat in San Diego Bay. Event attendees will remove debris on a kayak trip, receive bilingual education about local ecosystems, and meet with local professionals working in environmental fields. 

Sea Turtle Inc. (Texas) 

Project Name: “One Year of Sustainability with Sea Turtle Inc.”  

Sea Turtle, Inc. will conduct community-based events serving the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The year-long, multi-pronged approach includes providing alternatives to single use plastics, cleaning local jetties and beaches, and conducting shoreline marine debris monitoring through the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project.  

Sonsorol State Government (Republic of Palau) 

Project Name: “Beach clean-ups on the islands of the State of Sonsorol: Dongosaro, Fanna, PuloAnna & Melieli”  

Sonsorol State Government will educate Sonsorol youth about the harmful effects of ocean dumping and options for waste management. The youth will develop leadership and organizational skills by implementing beach cleanups on each of the four State of Sonsorol islands and will present project outcomes at a town hall to inform citizens of project achievements 


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at 


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications