Trash Free Seas

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

For the ocean, trash is much more than just an eyesore, it’s deadly. Each year more than 14 billion pounds of trash flow into the ocean as marine debris. It is estimated that this debris kills millions of seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals each year. While the problem is huge – more than 7 million square miles – there are solutions that can help. One solution, the Trash Free Seas Act, is moving right now in the Senate.

The Trash Free Seas Act will reauthorize and strengthen the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act of 2005 (MDRPRA), which supports important NOAA and Coast Guard work to research, remediate, and remove marine debris. The new Trash Free Seas Act provides key enhancements to previous legislation:

  • Greater regional and international coordination of mitigation efforts
  • Additional research and assessment for the NOAA Marine Debris program
  • More focus on economic effects of marine debris (for example the decline in tourism that may be associated with littered beaches)

Solutions proposed in the Trash Free Seas Act are important steps to tackling this multifaceted problem. In order to get a better understanding of the issues, let’s start from the beginning.

However you label it:  marine debris, ocean plastics, plastic pollution, it all comes from the same source. Human activity and improper trash disposal adds up to a lot of trash. All of our single use products like plastic bags and utensils accumulate over time. Improper disposal of items like old fishing equipment, cigarette butts, and water bottles is a direct source of pollution in and around coastal areas and at sea. Yet many miles away from the coast, storm runoff can carry this pollution significant distances across land, which ultimately ends up in the sea.

Once the marine debris has made its way to the ocean, it does not disappear.  Materials like metal and rubber are very slow to degrade. Plastics simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. While we might not be able to see these tiny particles, it’s still there, and very hard to manage. Microplastics also disrupt food chains. The tiny particles can block sunlight from reaching critical algae and plankton species. In addition, they can release toxic chemicals during the degradation process.

The toxic pollution released from debris breakdown in the oceans has detrimental health effects for many species, including humans. In fact, toxic BPAs from water bottles have been found throughout the ocean. These toxic chemicals impact development, ecosystem health, and a variety of other indicators for flourishing species. Ingestion and entanglement also affects the health of more than 270 marine species unable to differentiate the debris from food. Marine debris has been found in the stomachs of all kinds animals causing blockages, dehydration, and starvation.

Negative consequences from marine debris continues to pile up, because plastics that are designed to last will never go away. Ocean currents circulate the material until it accumulates into the . Without strong legislation to address these issues, marine debris will continue accumulating and marine and human health will continue to be impacted.

Date Posted: November 30, 2012 @ 1:59 pm Comments Off


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