National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Awarded $15 Million Grant to Remove Large Marine Debris From Sanctuaries

Silver Spring, Md. – April 21, 2023 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program recommended a grant of $14.9 million for funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to support “High-Impact and Large Marine Debris Removal throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System.”  

Marine debris is one of the greatest challenges facing our global ocean and the waterways that lead to it. Large marine debris items, such as abandoned and derelict vessels and derelict fishing gear, threaten marine wildlife and sensitive habitat and create safety and navigational hazards for recreation, tourism, and fishing. They can release contaminants into the marine environment including petroleum oils, lead paint and other toxic heavy metals, and plastic products and electronics that pose risks to animals through ingestion or entanglement. 

“As the most special places in our waters, it is critical we ensure our sanctuaries are free from large marine debris that is harming wildlife and endangering people,” said Shannon Colbert, Vice President for External Affairs at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “It will require teamwork, technical expertise and community support to remove these items that have been plaguing our ocean, in some cases, for decades. We are ready to work with NOAA and our on-the-ground partners to tackle the problem head-on and clean up these treasured waters.”  

“The historic funding made available by this legislation is critical to helping Americans prepare for and respond to climate hazards,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “The projects and partnerships advanced through this effort will also help address key challenges related to marine debris, and preserve habitat for wildlife.”   

Through this unprecedented large-scale marine debris removal project, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will use a collaborative approach working alongside partners including federal and state managers, Tribal governments, local stakeholders, businesses, and academic partners to remove known large debris targets from several sites across the National Marine Sanctuary System.  

“The Makah Tribal Council congratulates the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for its work in securing funding for the ‘High-Impact and Large Marine Debris Removal throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System’ project. The Makah Tribe is extremely grateful to the Sanctuary Foundation and the NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program for the opportunity to be a partner and benefit from this important project to remove derelict and contaminated structures and vessels from our shared waters.” – Makah Tribal Council 

“Moody Gardens looks forward to continuing its long-standing support of conservation and research efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, including in nationally significant places like the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, through collaborative efforts such as these.” – John Zendt, President/CEO, Moody Gardens 

“With this funding the Santa Rosa Island Research Station (SRIRS) at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) will be able to continue its marine debris research, monitoring, and removal operations on the California Northern Channel Islands. The funding will provide opportunities for CSUCI students and local community members to be involved in local outreach/education and habitat restoration efforts in Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The SRIRS Marine Debris program represents a cooperative effort between CSUCI, Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy, Island Packers Cruises, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and now the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.” – Russ Bradley, Director, Santa Rosa Island Research Station, , California State University Channel Islands 

The project will engage partners in a national, multi-site effort to remove large marine debris over the next three years in four geographic regions that include five national marine sanctuaries and two Tribal ancestral waters: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Quileute Usual and Accustomed Treaty Area, and Makah Usual and Accustomed Treaty Area in the Pacific Northwest; Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico; Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries along the central California coast, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park in southern California.  

Large marine debris that will be removed consists of abandoned and derelict vessels, derelict fishing gear, and other large items, including in one case a wrecked airplane.  

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 coast. 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.  

Removal of large marine debris will restore, protect, conserve, and enhance marine habitats and ecosystems across the system, including significant commercial and recreational fisheries, areas of cultural and spiritual importance to Tribal organizations, the northernmost coral reefs in the United States, kelp forests, underwater canyons, and remote island shorelines rich in biodiversity. Beginning with these sites, the partners will also develop partnership and implementation models for the removal of large-scale and high-impact marine debris across the entire National Marine Sanctuary System.  


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