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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Report: Ocean Waste Will Reach Higher Levels

September 22, 2008

A recent report by the National Research Council highlights the need for comprehensive plans to reduce ocean debris.

Released Friday, the plan found that efforts to prevent and reduce ocean debris are inadequate and the problem will most likely become worse.

The United States and the international maritime community should adopt a goal of “zero discharge” of waste into the marine environment, and a system to assess the effectiveness of existing and future marine debris prevention and reduction actions should be implemented, according to the report.

“The committee found that despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans,” said Keith Criddle, chair of the committee that wrote the report and the Ted Stevens Distinguished Professor of Marine Policy at the Juneau Center for Fisheries and Ocean Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

“We concluded that the United States must take the lead and coordinate with other coastal countries, as well as with local and state governments, to better manage marine debris and try to achieve zero discharge.”

Zero discharge could be achieved by setting a ban on trash dumping into the ocean. 

Although Congress previously called for federal interagency coordination to address the marine debris problem, leadership and governance remain inefficient and current mitigation efforts are episodic and crisis driven, the committee found. A national framework to identify priorities for dealing with marine debris and its removal efforts should be established.

Additionally, Congress should designate a lead agency to expand programs to comprehensively address the problem, including land-based marine litter, derelict fishing gear, shipborne waste, and abandoned vessels.

Under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V, which entered into force in 1988, many discharges from ships are permissible at sea. The committee said this approach does not encourage innovation or measures to minimize waste.

Therefore, EPA, NOAA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should help fishing communities explore alternative strategies and technologies for management, disposal, and recycling of used and recovered gear, the report found.

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