WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today unanimously approved S. 362, the “Marine Debris Research and Reduction Act” (S. 362), which the House of Representatives approved unanimously on September 27, 2006. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), creates a comprehensive national effort to reverse the detrimental impact of marine-borne trash on coastal states, and Hawaii in particular. S.362 will now proceed to the President for signature.
A combination of conventional trash and industrial refuse, marine debris has accumulated by the tons off of shores and is a growing threat to both coastal habitats and human health. The coastal waters and lands of many states are polluted with garbage, discarded fishing gear, cargo that has fallen overboard, equipment abandoned by commercial fleets and other refuse.
The 2004 Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy identified marine debris as one of the major threats to the nation’s marine resources, human health and safety along the coasts. However, no coordinated federal program exists to address the growing problem in a comprehensive or effective manner.
“Marine debris is a major cause of death to marine life and it degrades aquatic habitats, such as coral reefs and sea grass beds,” said Inouye, co-chairman of the Senate, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “We must try to reverse this problem and it will take the comprehensive, national commitment this legislation establishes.”
The problem is particularly acute in Hawaii and the federally-protected Northwestern Hawaiian Islands . With many of the Pacific currents circling around the island state, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands act as a filter of sorts for the entire Pacific, collecting literally thousands of tons of refuse and debris every year.
“In Hawaii , we are able to see the effect of marine debris more clearly than most because of the convergence caused by the North Pacific Tropical High,” Inouye noted. “Since 1996, a total of 484 tons of debris have been removed from coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands , which is also home to many endangered marine species.”
The “Marine Debris Research and Reduction Act” (S. 362), introduced by Inouye and co-sponsored by Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland), establishes a Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and enhances the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement of laws designed to prevent ship-based pollution. As approved by the House, it authorizes $10 million and $2 million, respectively, each year from 2006-2010 to carry out the Act.
The legislation aims to improve research and information on the sources of marine debris, its potential threats, and the means to prevent it. It also urges the agencies involved to work with foreign governments in collaborative efforts to reduce marine debris.
NOAA Marine Debris Website:
Ocean Commission report - Chapter 18 - Marine Debris:
Ocean Conservancy page on Marine Debris: