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By collecting data about litter wherever you see it, from the ocean to your backyard, you can contribute to critical scientific research. Help scientists and researchers better understand the bigger picture of the plastic pollution crisis, from global trends to impacts on local communities. To get started, all you need to do is download the free Marine Debris Tracker mobile application, also called Debris Tracker, on your smart device.



Litter that ends up in the environment can harm or kill wildlife, while also damaging and degrading habitats. While some items that end up as waste could have once played a critical role in keeping people safe and healthy, like medical or protective equipment, litter can threaten navigational safety, economies, and human health. Marine debris—any human-made item, commonly made of plastic, which makes its way to the ocean—is one of the most pervasive global threats to the health of the ocean. Scientists estimate that 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources. To really understand this problem, we need data not only on the coast but also upstream in the communities where much of the problem starts.

The large Debris Tracker dataset needed for research would be impossible to collect without help from citizen scientists like you. Information you contribute can help researchers develop data-driven solutions to plastic pollution threats. Your community can also use the data to help drive positive changes locally.

<p>Seven steps for the marine debris tracker illustrated with graphics.</p>

University of Georgia / Marine Debris Tracker

Using Debris Tracker To Tackle Plastic

Using Debris Tracker To Tackle Plastic  

Learn more about the Debris Tracker app in this Sea to Source video.

How to Use Debris Tracker

Participate in ongoing scientific research simply by using the free Debris Tracker app. Follow the steps below to get started.

<p>Image of a page from the Marine Debris Tracker app.</p>

University of Georgia / Marine Debris Tracker

  1. To join Marine Debris Tracker, download the free app for Android or iOS.
  2. Open the app and allow it to access your location. This will enable geotagging of your logged items and your path.

  3. Select “Start Tracking." Here you choose your project or organization. If you don’t have one, just select “NOAA,” or browse the descriptions linked to the “i” for each.

  4. You will see a screen with an “Items Collected” banner and a trash can icon at the top. The number on the trash can shows how many litter items you have tracked in total for that session.

    Below the banner are sections indicating litter categories. Select the categories you want to track and scroll through the blue-gray sub-list of specific litter items. Record the number of items you find of each litter type by tapping the “Add” button as many times as you need. You can also use the up/down-pointing triangles with the number, or change the number, before tapping “Add” to send to the trash can.

  5. When done collecting, select the right-pointing triangle at the top-right to continue.

    Review the items you have tracked and the map of your sightings. You can always go back to add or remove items. Return to select “Submit.”

  6. Once you “Submit,” and you’ll be asked to register. To earn credit on SciStarter for your participation in this project, please select “Log In Though SciStarter.”

  7. Another window will appear with options. If you have cell service or Wi-Fi access, you can click “Submit." If you don’t, just save the session and submit the observations when you do. You can also email a CSV file to yourself.

    Thank you for your submission! Now, you can optionally add a picture of your sightings or add a map and share your post with the world. If you choose to share, a story will be created on the Marine Debris Tracker website.

How To Use the Debris Tracker App

How To Use the Debris Tracker App  

This video shows you how to use the app step by step.

Geography of Plastic

Travel with one plastic drinking bottle, from the city of Chengdu, China, to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.

A common bottle nose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) eats a plastic can holder. The dolphin is completely submerged in a layer of plastic waste that has been discarded into the ocean.

Plastic Pollution: Sea to Source  

Travel thousands of miles with a plastic drinking bottle to learn about plastic pollution and understand how it harms the ocean.

Education is Key

Find ways to engage people of all ages through formal and informal learning

Screenshot of the handout.

Debris Tracker App Guide  

This guide tells the story of the plastic pollution crisis and includes step-by-step instructions for taking action through Debris Tracker data collection. This guide is also available in Portuguese, Spanish, and French.

screenshot of the worksheet

Plastic Pollution Action Journal  

Plastic Pollution Action Journal

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Debris Tracker Citizen Science to Local Action Guide  

This Debris Tracker Citizen Science to Local Action Guide is designed to inspire community-based efforts. Local data on plastic pollution can be used to help design solutions that take into account the particular circumstances of a community. 

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Debris Tracker Data Sheet  

This sheet can be printed out and used for data collection and analysis with or without the Debris Tracker app. This is a good tool to use if you do not have access to technology.

National Geographic is Taking Action

 Find out more about ongoing scientific research and a multi-year campaign at National Geographic

Planet or Plastic?

Planet or Plastic?  

Learn more about and join National Geographic’s multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis.

Plastic: Sea to Source

Plastic: Sea to Source  

Researching solutions to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean

Marine Debris Tracker App Logo

National Geographic on SciStarter  

Contribute research data to help tackle the plastic pollution crisis.

Professional Development Course

The most democratic goal of education is to develop engaged citizens who are able to investigate compelling questions about their community and the world around them.

Collecting Data to Explore Plastic Pollution in Our Communities  

In this course, you will hone your skills teaching data collection methods and tools so students can explore problems in their communities.

Image at the top of the page by Kathryn Youngblood