A bipartisan group of U.S. senators from coastal states introduced legislation Thursday calling for removal of the thousands of tons of ocean debris that wash up on U.S. shores each year.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the bill is intended to protect marine ecosystems and human health from ocean-borne trash, including discarded fishing gear, equipment abandoned by commercial fleets and cargo that has washed overboard.
The measure would authorize up to $50 million over five years for a debris prevention and removal program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and up to $25 million over five years to strengthen Coast Guard enforcement of laws banning ship-based pollution.
Discarded long line nets and fishing line are most responsible for damaging coral reefs and killing marine animals, including seals, dolphins, turtles and seabirds, according to Seba Sheavly, director for the International Coastal Cleanup.
About 40 percent to 60 percent of debris collected in more than 100 countries during the program’s annual worldwide cleanup is abandoned fishing gear, Sheavly said in a telephone interview from Virginia.
“A lot of fishermen are very responsible, but some are not,” Sheavly said. “Fishermen by their trade and their own ethics don’t want to leave their nets and gear behind. But things happen and there’s not always disposal options for a damaged net out at sea or in port.”
Isolation doesn’t protect the largely uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from mounds of ocean waste. Pacific currents funnel thousands of tons of refuse and debris to the eroded volcanic islands and atolls. When explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau visited the islands in 2003 he found hundreds of tons of trash and thousands of dead seabirds.
Seabirds find floating bits of plastic and bring them back to feed their young. They can accumulate as much as 10 ounces of plastic in their stomachs before they die, Cousteau has said. Larger debris, such as fishing gear, can trap endangered Hawaiian monk seals and threatened green sea turtles.
“In a high-tech era of radiation, carcinogenic chemicals and human-induced climate change, the problem of the trash produced by ocean-going vessels or litter swept out to sea must seem old-fashioned by comparison,” said Inouye. “Regrettably, that perception is wrong.”
Other sponsors include Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; John Kerry, D-Mass., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., from Atlantic Coast states.
Source: Washington Post/AP