Don’t be Trashy! Marine Debris and its Affects on a Global Scale

Source: NOAA

      Imagine it is a hot summer day and you venture to the beach.  You think of the sand, the sun, and relaxation.  Imagine you get there only to discover copious amounts of garbage littering the once pristine beach you were anticipating.  Marine debris is a global problem affecting marine life and society.  
       Marine Debris is defined by The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) as any man-made object discarded, disposed of or abandoned that enters the coastal marine environment.  Marine debris comes from different sources such as vessels, rivers, wind, rain, sewers, and beachgoers.  This is not just a problem facing the US, but it is of global concern.  Types of marine debris include derelict fishing gear, plastic bottles, waste from ocean voyaging vessels, and undersea exploration and oil and gas extraction equipment.
     Fishing gear can become unintentionally or accidentally lost and cause entanglement issues for species such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtles.  Fishing equipment can also “ghost fish” meaning gear continues to capture fish after it has been left behind.  Plastic can also be a problem for sea birds, mammals, fish, and squid that ingest it.  When marine life ingests plastic, it leads to reduced nutrient absorption, ulcers, and blockage of digestive processes.  Additionally, coastal communities dependent on tourism might see an economic down slide because the presence of litter on beaches deters tourism.
Source: NOAA
      There are now a handful of regulations in place to deal with the issue of marine debris.  One of particular interest to Marine Conservation Institute is the Marine Debris and Safety Act Amendments which were signed on December 20, 2012 by President Obama.  This was a bipartisan effort by Senator Mark Begich, (D); Senator Lisa Murkowski (R); Senator Daniel Inouye, (D); Representative Don Young, (R); and Representative Sam Farr, (D).  This was one of the last acts of the previous Congress.  The hope is for more bipartisan involvement on environmental issues like this with the new Congress.  While there are people interested in marine debris there is still a lack of reliable funding available for mitigation efforts. 
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
      How do citizens help tackle the problem of marine debris?  Vessel owners and operators can create their own set of rules on their vessels such as having a zero to minimal discharge policy.  Port operators can push for better infrastructure for disposal of waste on shore and incentives can be created for vessel operators to participate.   Awareness is also key to tackling the problem of marine debris.  For example at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, staff collected 87 balloons from a coastal island that sea turtles and marine birds frequent.   A local girl made a dress out of the balloons that were acquired to bring awareness to the issue.  For those of you who are not interested in wearing trash, you can track trash you find while strolling on the beach with the Marine Debris Tracker app.  People need to get involved and spread the word about marine debris in order to keep our coastlines pristine.  What will you do to reduce marine debris or raise awareness? 
      As stated above  Marine Conservation Institute advocated for the recent passage of the Marine Debris and Safety Act Amendments because marine debris affects people’s livelihoods and local economies, marine wildlife, and ecosystems.  Information on our press release can be found here.  It is a global problem; there isn’t a single ocean free of marine debris today.


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