The Marine Debris Act 

Jodi Alishouse

Pollution is a problem all over the world because of the constant production and disposal of trash. Humans are often inconsiderate and decide to litter, and sometimes after trash is thrown away, it is swept up by the wind on its way to the landfill. This results in what is called marine debris. The definition of marine debris is anything man-made that is thrown away or left and as a consequence, enters the marine environment. As stated before, this includes trash produced by humans, but it can also include things like fishing gear from either individual fishers or industrial fishing boats, sunken/stranded boats or other forms of marine transportation, and even storm water runoff that was not managed properly. When there is marine debris present, there are also microplastics nearby. Microplastics are broken down pieces of plastic material that are so small that they can be consumed by fish. 

This marine debris causes many issues for the environment, humans and especially wildlife. Marine wildlife is affected by the debris as well as the animals that live on and around the beaches where marine debris appears. Animals such as sea birds, turtles, whales and dolphins suffer from eating the trash and getting tangled in the debris that is floating in their habitats. This can also make beaches extremely unpleasant to visit and can affect the number of tourists that come to a location, which can lead to a loss of income for a community that relies on tourism. In order to try to solve some of the issues related to marine debris, in 2006 Congress decided to fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This involved the creation and implementation of policy to help enforce specific rules. The Marine Debris Act has the main goal of conserving the natural resources that exist, specifically coastal waterways and oceans. 

The Marine Debris Act strives to generate a cleaner environment by creating and offering resources and materials to the public to teach them about the issues surrounding marine debris and what they can do to help. This in turn, ideally minimizes the amount of marine debris, and allows for additional research regarding the impacts on the marine environment that result when there is debris present. The act identifies five pillars that it states will be essential in achieving the mission previously mentioned. Those five pillars defined by the NOAA are “prevention, removal, research, regional coordination, and emergency response”. With all five of those pieces in place, and proper direction, the act is meant to gain more information about the impacts of marine debris while also handling the problem with a little more knowledge on how. This act has been reviewed, updated, and re-signed in order to renew the act twice since its original creation; once in 2018 and once in 2020. The updated versions were renamed as the Save Our Seas Act of 2018, and the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2020. 

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act is the most recent update that was most recently revisited on December 18th of 2020. This policy has a more specific focus towards improving the infrastructure, the buildings and facilities within the United States, to help prevent and increase the study of marine debris. It also focuses on increasing overall global engagement with issues involving marine debris. Most importantly it fosters innovation, new research, and makes our ability to respond to marine debris stronger. 

There are many challenges that arise when policies involve the creation of laws regarding open water because property lines are more difficult to define. When it comes to marine debris specifically, it is hard to manage because it is not always easy to track it origins. Storms, flooding, and other situations that are out of human control can push marine debris around and cause it to end up hundreds of miles away from where it was originally dumped. That creates challenges when trying to pinpoint where to establish and enforce more rules and regulations to combat the issue. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic, mask use, and the general consumption of one-use plastics continues, so does the global issue of marine debris. With that being said there is hope that the Save Our Seas Act will continue to be updated and help remind those in power the importance of the issue and the urgency that it should be approached with. Policies like this one exist for the greater good, and have the intention to help alleviate some of the damage being done by marine debris. With the proper execution, funding, and teamwork actions such as this policy have the ability to change the course of the health of our oceans and their ecosystems. 

Sources: Authenticated U.S. Government Information: Public Law 116-224 Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, Congressional Research Service: Marine Debris: NOAA’s Role, NOAA’s National Ocean Service, Office of Response and Restoration: NOAA’s Marine Debris Program