Rockefeller Remarks on Tsunami Generated Marine Debris

May 17, 2012

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.— More than a year has passed since Japan suffered the Tuhoku earthquake and tsunami—one of the worst natural disasters of all time.  As the devastating tsunami waves hit Japan, they literally swept thousands of people and their belongings tragically out to sea.  The remains of some 25 million pounds of debris entered the ocean.  Japan’s losses were far reaching. 

The debris from the tsunami is a poignant reminder of our human connections across vast ocean distances.  In Canada, a motorcycle that washed up was found to belong to a man who tragically lost three members of his family in the tsunami and is still living in temporary housing.  In Alaska, a simple football along the shore was tracked back to its original owner who had the foresight to inscribe the ball.  Marine debris associated with the tsunami is reaching U.S. coastlines much earlier than expected, and the debris will continue to affect coastlines and ocean wildlife for decades to come.  There is a false notion that the sheer vastness of the ocean can withstand all that we demand of it. 

Marine debris is a visual and compelling reminder that we all share responsibility to keep our marine environment clean and free of waste and debris.  Even for those living far from a coastline, too often our trash finds its way into the sea.  While the dramatic Japanese tsunami has brought about heightened awareness of the impact of marine debris, debris is a fact of everyday life.  I am proud to have co-sponsored my friend Senator Daniel Inouye’s legislation, the Trash Free Seas Act of 2011 to reauthorize and strengthen federal programs to reduce and prevent marine debris.  I call on the Senate to swiftly act and pass this important piece of legislation.

Further, while NOAA and the Coast Guard have done much with little funding and staff to combat marine debris impacts, this hearing will help us understand how we can do better.  I think we must do better, and call upon my colleagues in Congress as well as the Administration to devote further leadership and resources to help respond to this critical and pervasive threat to our oceans and our coastlines.