Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans & Insular Affairs
Today, over half of seabirds soaring over the ocean have plastic in their stomachs. Mistaking the variety of plastic debris polluting the seas as prey items, these birds are known to gorge on trash and then starve to death. This is not limited to birds; marine mammals, fish, turtles, even macroscopic plankton are ingesting plastics and other marine debris. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Even gray whales have been found dead with plastic bags and sheeting in their stomachs. In the North Pacific alone, a floating garbage dump exceeding the size of Rhode Island chokes the sea. A recent study found an average of 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile in the North Pacific Central Gyre, which serves as a natural eddy system to concentrate marine debris.
Marine debris is typically defined as any man-made object discarded, disposed of, or abandoned that enters the coastal or marine environment. It may enter directly from a ship, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Examples range from microscopic plastics in face-wash, to cigarette butts, to plastic bags and bottles, to 4,000 pound fishing nets.
Trash in the sea is not just an eyesore. It is a global problem affecting environment and the economy; from fishing and navigation to human health and safety. Results of more than 10 years of volunteer beach cleanup data indicate that 60 to 80 percent of beach debris comes from land-based sources. Plastic, composing almost 90 percent of floating marine debris, affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all sea bird species, and 43 percent of marine mammal species. In the North Pacific, a study documented that 35% of the fish studied had ingested plastic, averaging 2.1 pieces per fish. Beachgoers can cut themselves on glass and metal left on the beach. Marine debris also endangers the safety and livelihood of fishermen and recreational boaters. Nets and monofilament fishing line can obstruct propellers and plastic sheeting and bags can block cooling intakes. Such damages are hazardous and costly in terms of repair and lost fishing time. In one Oregon port, a survey revealed that 58% of fishermen had experienced equipment damage due to marine debris. Their average repair cost was $2,725.
The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act was enacted in 2006. The Act established NOAA's Marine Debris Program, which is successfully working with partners to identify, reduce, and prevent marine debris to protect our coastal and marine resources and waterways from the impacts of this garbage. Since the passage of this Act in 2006, strong partnerships to address this issue have formed between federal, state, NGO's, tribes, and industry.
H.R. 1171, introduced by Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), will reauthorize this Act helping NOAA and other programs to prioritize research and assessment on derelict fishing gear and plastics pertaining to the health of the marine environment, navigation safety, and economy. The new bill would authorize the development of products and tools to improve the effectiveness of addressing marine debris and these tools will be made available to researchers, stakeholders, and public. This bill will also encourage international cooperation and leadership, including coordination of an International Marine Debris Conference every four years.
Reducing marine debris is a worldwide problem we can solve together with even the smallest actions. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and participate in local beach or stream cleanups. If we each do a little, together we can make a big difference.
How Can I Help?
- Reduce, reuse and recycle at home, work and school.
- Buy products made from recycled materials with little or no packaging.
- Keep storm drains clean - they drain to beaches.
- Keep cigarette butts off streets and beaches.
- Properly dispose of fishing lines, nets and hooks.