Friday, October 26, 2012

Nature Nut’s Tech Corner

Illustration by Jean Bitting, 2012
Do you feel like your inner nature nut and techie geeks are at odds with each other? Are you looking for a fresh new way to explore nature?  Are you a technophobe looking for a way to start plugging in? Perhaps you wish you had a way to inspire today’s technologically bound youth to re-connect with the natural world surrounding them? Whatever your current relationship with the ever-changing world of technology might be, the Nature Nut’s Tech Corner is the perfect resource to help you get your geek on with nature!  Visit us on the last Friday of each month, right here, as we spotlight a new field tested application.

Marine Debris Tracker

As hard as it is for many of us to believe, we find ourselves at yet another final Friday of the month! In this edition of Nature Nut’s Tech Corner we bring you an application that helps you make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways. Marine Debris Tracker is an application resulting from a joint partnership of the NOAA Marine Debris Division and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI), located within the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia, and was created with the hope that it would spread awareness of marine debris, as well as serve as an easy to use and simple tool for marine debris data collection. More recently, the app has even been used to help NOAA track marine debris from the Japanese tsunami.

This handy app allows you to record debris location using your phone’s GPS. You can also view the data on your phone and submit to the Marine Debris Tracker Website for viewing and download later. A map in the app allows you to view the recent items you have located in the area. The app does require registration, which you can do directly from the app itself. Your username is shown on the website for only the most recent 5 items you have tracked, but your GPS coordinates are not shown. Your personal location remains anonymous to the public. This tool can be quite useful for tracking items found during beach cleanup events or during simple strolls along the water.

The app is very user friendly, and contains a pre-loaded list of commonly found marine debris items. Categories of cloth, fishing gear, glass, metal, plastic, processed lumber, and rubber are then broken down further into lists of common items within them. For example, under the cloth category, you will find clothing and shoes, fabric pieces, gloves (non-runner), rope (non-plastic), and towels/rags. The pre-loaded list of commonly found marine debris items can also be accessed as an alphabetical list for ease of use. Items not located on the pre-loaded list can be entered as “other” along with a description from the user. Photos can also be taken from the submission screen to accompany the entry (this is a recent addition which is not seen in the screenshot below).

The Marine Debris Tracker app is available on Android and iPhone. We encourage you to check this app out the next time you enjoy our beautiful coastlines and waterways and use the wonderful technology available to us to become involved!


  1. Is this available on the NOAA website for those without smart phones?

    1. Great question! There is not a full online version of this particular app currently since it is tied to GPS location, however they have requested feedback on what future platforms to tackle, so I would encourage you to visit their site and let them know what you most often use. You can still certainly report debris however. Debris can be valuable for research on currents,for one thing, so if you locate Legos, footwear (left and right shoes react differently in the currents, this is being studied as well), bathtub toys (yellow ducks, green frogs, red beavers, blue turtles), hockey gloves, or "Tommy Pickles" Rugrats toys to Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer at These items are from known lost shipping containers. Suspected Tsunami or disaster debris should be reoported to NOAA via email at I hope this helps!