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Addressing the global marine debris crisis from an underwater perspective - citizen science and community engagement for global solution
by Project AWARE (Non-governmental organization (NGO))
As an international not-for-profit marine conservation organisation, Project AWARE works for a clean, healthy ocean focusing on reducing underwater impacts of marine debris and preventing trash from entering the ocean.

Marine debris is a primary threat facing today's ocean choking, suffocating, entangling and killing precious marine life and destroying ocean habitats.

At least 817 different species have ingested or become entangled in marine debris and its estimated that more than 250 million tons of plastic will make its way into our ocean by 2025. The cost is also vast plastic debris alone is estimated to cost US$13 billion per year in environmental damage.

Although its believed that over 70% of marine debris that enters the ocean ends up on the seafloor, little quantitative information is available regarding the types and quantities of this rubbish. Recognizing the power of the diving community as citizen scientists to help fill this void in information, Project AWARE developed Dive Against Debris - the worlds first and only underwater marine debris survey operating on a global scale, yielding data about the types, quantities and impacts to marine life that marine debris inflicts on the ocean.

Since the inception of Dive Against Debris in 2011, more than 25,000 divers have conducted almost 4000 surveys, removing and reporting over 800,000 debris items from shallow ocean environments. Data collected so far consistently shows that the majority of items are plastics (currently accounting for 63% of all items reported).


1. Building evidence to advocate for change
Dive Against Debris provides an immediate relief to underwater habitats and marine life through the direct removal of debris, whilst also building the evidence necessary to advocate for change and work towards solutions in the long-term.

2. Empowering scuba divers to be agents of positive change
To further support the program, better equip divers with the skills and knowledge necessary to independently conduct their own Dive Against Debris surveys, report data accurately and become true debris activists, Project AWARE launched the Dive Against Debris Distinctive Specialty Course available in 12 different languages. The Adopt A Dive Site initiative capitalises on the commitment demonstrated by our most dedicated Dive Against Debris leaders, empowering community leaders and dive businesses to take ownership of their local dive sites to conduct monthly surveys at their adopted site as well as implementing changes to reduce the waste their business generate.

3. Bringing change through strategic partnerships
Marine debris is a complex problem with both local and global effects requiring strategic collaboration. Project AWARE is committed to developing solutions through partnerships with communities, governments, NGOs and businesses. The underwater perspective on the marine debris issue that scuba divers help shape through Dive Against Debris data is unique. Marine litter is also one of the clearest symbols of a resource inefficient economy. Project AWARE is working with partners toward a much-needed transition from a linear take, make, dispose model of economic growth to a circular economy where products are designed to be reused and recycled continuously.
Progress reports
By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
Type of commitment
  • Coastal clean-ups
  • Plastics product bans or restrictions
  • Plastics recovery/recycling/reuse
OTHER POLLUTANTS (please specify)
  • Other (please specify): In addition to Plastics, Dive Against Debris yields data on Metals; Glass & Ceramics; Rubber; Wood; Cloth; paper & Cardboard; Mixed. Items of local concern are captured.
  • Yielding quantitative data for multiple locations across the globe regarding the types, quantities and impacts of marine debris on marine life and habitats. Dive Against Debris builds an accurate perspective specifically regarding marine debris underwater.
By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
Type of commitment
  • Other (please specify): Marine debris removed can no longer harm marine life and ecosystems therefore contributing to achieving a healthy and productive ocean.
  • Data on entangled animals encountered during surveys is also captured including the species entangled, number of individuals entangled, type of marine debris the animal was entangled in and the status of the animal(s): dead/injured/released unharmed.
By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
Type of commitment
  • Other (please specify): As a member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, Project AWARE is sharing data to help inform where our volunteers are finding or not finding ghost fishing gear, including its types and quantities.
By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
Type of commitment
  • Economic benefits from sustainable tourism
  • Through Adopt a Dive Site, dive tourism businesses commit to reduce their waste stream contributing to sustainable management of tourism.
Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
Type of commitment
  • Data access and sharing
  • Training and professional development
April 2018
Compile and deploy location-specific data reports for 150 adopted sites across the globe to empower local community leaders to work with relevant authorities to address marine debris issues locally
August 2017
Maximize innovative technology capabilities with the release of a mobile application to streamline the marine debris data reporting system and increase data submissions globally. By doing so, we hope to yield more, high quality data further enhancing the global dataset.
December 2020
Dec 2020 : Project AWARE will continue to collaborate with multiple stakeholders, forging strategic partnerships to work towards solutions to prevent debris at the source - sharing an accurate perspective regarding the underwater marine debris issue. This includes contributing to the deliverables identified in existing alliances including the Trash Free Seas Alliance, Global Ghost Gear Initiative, Seas At Risk, and the Global Partnership for Marine Litter.
Other, please specify
As a registered charity in the United Kingdom, America and Australia, Project AWARE relies on donations - from individuals to foundations, in cash or in kind - to fuel conservation initiatives from grassroots action to tackle marine debris in communities
In-kind contribution
Our work would not have been possible without the extensive, direct involvement of volunteers - recreational and professional scuba divers and other ocean activists - who not only participate in but also organize data collection activities and reporting
Staff / Technical expertise
Project AWARE has 11 staff globally (full- and part- time) facilitating full program management including data assurance and quality control, technological advancements, program development and evaluation, and on- and offline community support
Basic information
Time-frame: June 2011 - December 2020
Project AWARE (lead entity - Non-governmental organization); Volunteer scuba divers and community leaders (other relevant actor); Dive stores & resorts (private sector)
Ocean Basins
  • Global
Beneficiary countries
Other beneficaries
Contact information
Hannah Pragnell-Raasch, Programs Specialist, hannah.pragnell-raasch@projectaware.org,
Other SDGs
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