Debris, Debris, Everywhere You See

hawaiian marine debris photo

Image from NOAA

"Out of sight, out of mind": You'll have to forgive me for trotting out such a tired, old cliché, but I can think of few dictums that better capture the catastrophic mindset that helped foster many, if not most, of this past century's worst environmental disasters. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ocean, where blights like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have become almost depressingly familiar -- yet another sign of how pervasive marine pollution has become.

Worryingly, a new report released by the National Research Council, entitled "Tracking Marine Debris in the 21st Century," predicts that the problem of marine debris risks becoming much worse over the coming century. Current measures, the report says, have proven insufficient and should be scrapped in favor of a "zero discharge" policy and a better integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to managing existing waste. Government's actions over the last 20 years: epic fail
The report determined that regulatory actions taken by all levels of government over the last 20 years have failed to make any headway in solving the problem, which has expanded to include everything from litter and shipborne waste to abandoned boats. Congress should formally designate an agency to create new programs aimed at tackling these issues and to overhaul existing legislation.

Recommendations focus on better collaboration, more enforcement and a mix of incentives
A major flaw of MARPOL Annex V, a piece legislation enacted under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships in 1988, was its failure to effectively regulate most discharges from ships. Requiring ships to dump their trash at shoreside waste reception facilities and providing them with incentives, such as low disposal fees, to use them could help drive down the amount of debris that finds its way into the ocean every year.

Other recommendations included:

"EPA should also take the lead to work with academia, industry, and nongovernmental organizations to develop industry standards and guidelines for source reduction, reuse, and recycling for solid wastes that are generated during ship operations.


Effective marking of fishing gear is critical for identifying the sources or fisheries that may have deployed the gear, and NOAA should develop marking protocols, the report claims. Fishery management organizations should also adopt a "no fault" policy regarding the documentation and recovery of lost fishing gear. Under this policy, local fishermen, state officials, and the public should develop cost-effective derelict fishing gear removal and disposal programs, and fishermen participating in removal efforts could receive financial credit or be exempted from landfill fees.


The committee concluded that abandoned fish aggregating devices become derelict fishing gear when the captain of the vessel does not retrieve them. Under MARPOL Annex V, this should be considered an illegal disposal if the devices contain synthetic ropes, webbing, or other plastics. NOAA should modify the federal regulations to clarify the circumstances under which abandoned fish aggregating devices become illegal discharge. The committee also indicated that international and domestic fisheries organizations should do more to regulate these devices and prevent them from becoming debris."

All of this may not sound very sexy, but, as a longstanding problem that has been either mostly ignored or haphazardly dealt with until now, it deserves serious attention. You can skim the entire report or read its summary here.

Via ::ScienceDaily: Marine Debris Will Likely Worsen In The 21st Century (news website)

More about marine trash
::Ocean Conservancy Reveals World’s Only Snapshot of Marine Trash
::Following Algalita's "Junk" to the North Pacific Gyre
::Will A Global Network Of Marine Reserves Reverse Troubling Trends In The Sea?

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