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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century 1 Introduction The debris of modern living frequently finds its way into our waterways and down to the sea. Some debris enters the marine system as intentional or accidental discharges from ships and platforms; the rest is transported to the ocean by rivers, rain, wind, sewers, and beachgoers. Given the diversity and abundance of sources, the persistent nature of plastics1 and other garbage, and the ability of tides and currents to carry debris long distances, marine debris is a global concern that is likely to increase in the 21st century. At the same time, marine debris is a problem that can, in part, be exacerbated or ameliorated by actions taken at local, state, regional, national, and international levels. This interplay between global and local dimensions of marine debris is an important attribute of the problem and its solutions. For the purposes of this report, marine debris is defined as “any persistent, manufactured, or processed solid material that is directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.”2 This definition necessarily excludes natural 1 The term “plastics” is used to encompass the wide range of synthetic polymeric materials that are characterized by their deformability and can thus be molded into a variety of three-dimensional shapes, including a variety of common materials such as polypropylene, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, nylon, and polycarbonate (National Research Council, 1994). Some plastics are degradable and not persistent. 2 This definition was provided by the U.S. Coast Guard in the context of the committee’s statement of task. However, it also closely follows the draft definition developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard in response
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century flotsam, such as trees washed out to sea, and focuses on nondegradable synthetic materials that persist in the marine environment. Not all of these materials are inherently harmful, but evidence of damaging effects provides the impetus for this report, which focuses on measures to prevent and reduce the debris, particularly plastic debris, which has persistent negative impacts. It is also important to note that different types of marine debris have different effects. For example, a derelict net that is still actively ghost fishing raises concerns about entanglement of marine life, whereas a plastic water bottle discarded at sea may wash ashore and become a visual disamenity. As discussed in the following chapters, an improved understanding of the fates and impacts of various marine debris types will improve our efforts to prioritize mitigation. Marine debris has many sources. Overall, most debris comes from land-based sources (e.g., household garbage, medical waste, plastic resin pellets used as inputs for plastics manufacturing), but a considerable amount of debris is discharged at sea3 (e.g., U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004; Sheavly, 2007). Ocean-based sources of debris (e.g., fishing gear; galley waste; dunnage; cargo nets; wastes generated by offshore minerals and petroleum exploration, development, and extraction) may come from a diverse fleet of vessels and platforms. A 1995 National Research Council (NRC) report characterized 10 distinct U.S. maritime sectors: recreational boats; commercial fisheries; cargo ships; passenger day boats and ferries; small public vessels4; offshore platforms, rigs, and supply vessels; U.S. Navy combatant surface vessels; passenger cruise ships; research vessels; and miscellaneous vessels (National Research Council, 1995a). There are considerable differences between these sectors (e.g., number of vessels, average vessel size, average crew or passenger size, average time spent at sea), which can result in differences in garbage generation and waste management capabilities. In addition, these sectors are not static and there may be a great deal of variability within vessels of a single sector (see Box 1.1). Measures aimed at preventing and reducing marine debris will need to be tailored to the characteristics of each sector (National Research Council, 1995a). Similarly, studies have shown significant regional differences in marine debris sources, abundance, impacts, and trends related to such factors as geographical location, oceanographic conditions, and proximity to the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (33 U.S.C. § 1951 et seq.) (“Definition of Marine Debris for Purposes of the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Pollution Act,” 73 Fed. Reg. 30322 [May 27, 2008]). 3 The terms ocean-based, marine-based, shipborne, and maritime sources are used interchangeably to indicate marine debris that is discharged at sea. 4 Includes small vessels belonging to the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, and other government entities.
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century BOX 1.1 Offshore Energy Development and Marine Debris The offshore oil and gas sector illustrates the complex and evolving nature of ocean-based sources of marine debris. This sector encompasses a diversity of vessels, including fixed and floating offshore rigs and platforms, small service vessels, and seismic survey and exploration vessels. Marine debris from this sector ranges from seismic equipment that is lost or abandoned to debris that is accidentally or intentionally discharged during routine platform or support vessel operations. Some 10 percent of marine debris found on the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas has been attributed to offshore oil and gas operations (Miller and Jones, 2003). In 1994, “nearly all the offshore oil and gas exploration occur[red] in the [western] Gulf of Mexico” (National Research Council, 1995a) and, while this is still largely the case, recent interest in increased offshore drilling in U.S. waters (e.g., White House Office of the Press Secretary, 2008) could eventually lead to increased offshore exploration and production and associated marine debris, not only in the Gulf of Mexico but in coastal waters off Alaska, California, New England, and Florida. to human populations (e.g., Ribic et al., 1992; Coe and Rogers, 1997; Donohue and Foley, 2007; Sheavly, 2007). As Box 1.1 indicates, the Gulf of Mexico coast is more vulnerable to marine debris from offshore oil and gas operations because of their prevalence in this region. In a recent national survey of coastal debris, it was found that land-based sources of debris dominate the region between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Beaufort, North Carolina, while ocean-based sources, particularly fishing gear, dominate the Hawaiian Islands (Sheavly, 2007). These differences are important when considering measures to prevent and reduce marine debris. There has been a movement toward regional approaches to address ocean and coastal problems at appropriate scales and to improve overall ocean governance (Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, 2007); given the regional differences in marine debris, this approach is relevant to marine debris management as well. There are many points of intervention for addressing marine debris. Education can raise public awareness and change the behaviors leading to the discharge of waste that becomes marine debris. Prevention measures can also address waste production by minimizing the use of products that become marine debris or preventing them from being accidentally lost at sea. For maritime sources, there is a need for shipboard waste handling and storage options. Proper land-based waste disposal systems, including alternatives such as recycling, are also essential; however, along with adequate waste reception facilities, there is a need for incentives to use these facilities and disincentives for disposing of waste at sea. Finally, efforts can be directed at removing debris in the marine environment,
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century and information on the scope of the marine debris problem will aid in prioritizing these removal programs. This report focuses on the ocean-based sources of debris, but it recognizes that it is unrealistic and impractical to separate these sources in all situations and thus addresses the ocean-based sources in the greater context of the marine debris problem. In addition, this report provides a specific review of two marine debris types of increasing concern: derelict fishing gear (DFG) and abandoned fish aggregating devices (FADs). MARINE DEBRIS TIMELINE Humans once viewed the ocean and its resources as limitless and believed that disposal of waste from vessels and along rivers and coasts into the ocean would do little harm. However, awareness of marine debris as a significant waste management and ocean pollution problem has grown as more and more garbage, particularly persistent synthetic materials, has entered the marine environment. In the 1970s and 1980s, two major international conventions related to ocean garbage entered into force: the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (commonly referred to as the London Convention) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL) Annex V. During this same period, the marine debris problem was gaining attention in the United States as the public saw evidence of marine life entangled in debris as well as substantial amounts of garbage, including medical waste, washing up on beaches (e.g., Manheim, 1986; Adler, 1987; Toufexis, 1988). NRC first examined the problem of marine debris in the general context of ocean pollutants (National Research Council, 1975), but marine debris quickly came to be recognized as a problem in its own right. It was estimated that, in 1988, New Jersey lost between $379 million and $3.6 billion in tourism and other revenue as a result of debris washing ashore (Swanson et al., 1991; Ofiara and Brown, 1999). Concurrent losses in New York are estimated to have been between $950 million and $2 billion (Swanson et al., 1991). Public uproar over these wash-ups led, in 1989, to the development of the Floatables Action Plan for the New York Bight. From their inception through 2006, the Floatables Collection Programs have recovered over 353 million pounds of debris from the New York Bight, including more than 19.4 million pounds in 2006 alone (Environmental Protection Agency, 2007a). To address the growing threat to wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began the Marine Entanglement Research Program (MERP) in 1985. The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 (33
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.) established a marine debris coordinating committee, including senior officials from NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and U.S. Navy. Against this backdrop, Congress was debating whether to phase out the continued ocean dumping of sewage sludge in waters off of New York and New Jersey. In 1995, NRC released Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Controlling Garbage and Plastic Wastes at Sea (National Research Council, 1995a), which included comprehensive recommendations to improve marine debris management. Similar recommendations are echoed in National Research Council (1996a) and Coe and Rogers (1997). Despite the flurry and initial promise of these activities, many marine debris programs such as MERP received less support over the years or were entirely discontinued. In 2000, the U.S. General Accounting Office, in a report on reducing cruise ship pollution, reviewed the status of recommendations made in various studies aimed at strengthening U.S. enforcement efforts and discouraging illegal discharges. It found that most of the recommendations from the 1995 NRC report (National Research Council, 1995a) had been only partially implemented and some recommendations had not been implemented at all (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2000). The committee notes that most of these recommendations continue to be relevant and applicable today. Awareness and concern about marine debris are once again on the rise. In 2004, the final report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century set forth recommendations to improve efforts to assess the sources and consequences of marine debris; to reduce marine debris, including DFG; and to ensure the adequacy of reception facilities (U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004). Congress took action to address some of these recommendations and concerns in 2006 when it passed the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (MDRPRA) (33 U.S.C. § 1951 et seq.). Several parallel activities have been spurred by this legislation and other concerns. MDRPRA reconstituted the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee, originally created by the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act, and charged it with coordinating “a comprehensive program of marine debris research and activities among federal agencies” (33 U.S.C. § 1951 et seq.). MDRPRA also legally established the NOAA Marine Debris Program, which had been relaunched by NOAA in 2005 to revive the work of MERP. NOAA’s Marine Debris Program is actively involved in activities to study, prevent, and remediate marine debris (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2008a). Internationally, the International Maritime Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century International Oceanographic Commission, among others, are currently engaged in programs to improve the prevention and reduction of marine debris. Of particular interest is the ongoing work of a correspondence group of the International Maritime Organization Marine Environment Protection Committee “to develop the framework, method of work, and timetable for a comprehensive review of MARPOL Annex V Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships and the associated Revised Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V” (International Maritime Organization, 2006a), which is discussed in further detail in Chapter 3. Given the fortuitous timing of these activities, the committee hopes that this report will provide useful input into the international review of MARPOL Annex V. The recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (2004) and the enactment of MDRPRA establish a good foundation for supporting more effective programs to reduce the amount and impact of marine debris from both ocean- and land-based sources. However, similar recommendations have been made before (e.g., Shomura and Godfrey, 1990; National Research Council, 1995a, 1996a; Coe and Rogers, 1997). Ongoing expansion of ocean-borne cargo transport and ever-increasing population density along U.S. and international coasts have the potential to overwhelm current marine debris management regimes. In moving forward, the committee has kept in mind the lessons learned from past attempts; this report outlines the committee’s recommendations to further measures that will garner the ongoing support needed to address marine debris problems now and into the future. STUDY APPROACH AND STATEMENT OF TASK MDRPRA called for NRC to produce “a comprehensive report on the effectiveness of international and national measures to prevent and reduce marine debris and its impact” (33 U.S.C. § 1951 et seq.). USCG, as the study sponsor, worked with congressional staff and the Ocean Studies Board to refine the study charge (see Box 1.2 for the committee’s full task statement). The Committee on the Effectiveness of International and National Measures to Prevent and Reduce Marine Debris and Its Impacts was composed of experts with varying backgrounds and perspectives on the marine debris problem, from research to regulation, fisheries to shipping, and prevention and enforcement to impacts and mitigation. The committee met three times over the 15-month study period (December 17–18, 2007, in Washington, DC; February 20–22, 2008, in Irvine, California; and April 28–29, 2008, in Honolulu, Hawaii). At each of these meetings, there were public sessions during which the committee heard from federal
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century BOX 1.2 Statement of Task An ad hoc committee will be formed to examine the effectiveness of international and national measures to prevent and reduce marine debris and its impact. The committee will prepare a report that includes An evaluation of international and domestic implementation of MARPOL Annex V and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (33 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.) and identification of cost-effective, innovative approaches that could be taken to improve implementation and compliance. A review and assessment of technologies, strategies, and management practices for further reducing the impact of marine debris, including derelict fishing gear. As part of this review, the committee will examine the International Mari-time Organization’s Guidelines for the Implementation of Annex V of MARPOL [International Maritime Organization, 2006b] and recommend additional federal or international actions that could be taken to further reduce debris and its impacts. An evaluation of the role of floating fish aggregation devices in the generation of marine debris and existing legal mechanisms to reduce impacts of such debris, focusing on impacts in the Western Pacific and Central Pacific regions. An overview of the existing federal statutes on marine debris (including land-based sources) with a description of the responsibilities of the designated federal agencies. agency representatives, particularly members of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee; marine debris and fisheries researchers; representatives from industry groups, fisheries management groups, and nongovernmental organizations; and many others (see acknowledgements for the full list of presenters). These presentations, as well as additional information submitted to or gathered by the committee throughout the study process, formed the basis for the findings and recommendations in this report. These findings and recommendations are supported by the best evidence available to the committee; however, in many cases, data for scientific assessment of the extent and impacts of marine debris are scarce. Therefore, many of the recommendations included in this report reflect the opinions and best judgment of the current committee as well as subjective judgments reflected in earlier reports. The committee’s mandate was to evaluate measures to prevent and reduce ocean-based waste. Nevertheless, it is meaningless to artificially separate the land-based sources of marine debris from the discussion. Therefore, some of the discussion is on marine debris in general, regardless of source, and on options for changing the character and amount of materials entering into the waste stream and alternatives for waste disposal.
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century The report is intended as general guidance to U.S. policy makers and managers implementing measures to prevent and reduce marine debris. The U.S. federal government has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the global arena, while providing support and guidance for regional and local efforts within the country. Therefore, the actions taken by the U.S. federal government can improve marine debris mitigation measures at many levels, from international to local. At the same time, the committee believes that many of these recommendations are applicable at the state and local levels and also may be helpful to the governments of other nations struggling with the marine debris problem. The committee chose to highlight broad principles, approaches, and technologies that are applicable across sectors and throughout the waste management process, though the report discusses in some detail FADs and other fishing gear. The report does not include a detailed review of sector-specific technologies or of the complex relationships between ports5 and local waste handling systems and their fee structures. However, there is a special emphasis on the technologies and approaches available to the fishing industry and fishery-dependent communities with respect to the challenges of disposing of used fishing gear. REPORT ORGANIZATION Several previous and ongoing studies, particularly the 1995 NRC report (National Research Council, 1995a), have highlighted areas for improvement in national and international response to the marine debris problem. This report contributes to the ongoing dialogue by focusing on two overarching themes: a broad review of the effectiveness of MARPOL Annex V and its domestic implementation, and a specific look at the role of DFG and FADs as components of marine debris. Chapter 2 includes a review of the available data on the quantity and impacts of marine debris in the environment, what these data reveal about efforts to prevent and reduce marine debris, and why additional and ongoing information is needed to support the development of a national strategy for addressing the source identification, prevention, mitigation, and remediation of marine debris, as well as to serve as a gauge of the effectiveness of the strategy. Chapter 3 consists of a review and analysis of the existing regulatory and management framework for preventing and reducing marine debris 5 The term “port” as used in this report is descriptive of both the harbor area where ships are docked and the agency (e.g., port authority or terminal operator) that administers the use of the public wharves and port properties (American Association of Port Authorities, 2006).
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Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century and what this information reveals about implementation of and compliance with MARPOL Annex V and complementary domestic statutes and regulations. In addition, Chapter 3 identifies gaps and flaws in the regulatory framework and its implementation and presents recommendations for addressing those shortcomings. Chapter 4 includes a critical review of existing domestic and international laws as they relate to regulation of DFG and FADs and fishing practices that lead to the loss or abandonment of fishing gear. While DFG and abandoned or lost FADs are marine debris, there are many legal and practical aspects that make them unique from other types of debris and there is growing concern about their prevalence and impact. Moreover, DFG and FADs were specifically referenced in MDRPRA as subjects for further review by this committee. Therefore, the committee has devoted a separate chapter to exploring these types of debris. The committee gathered a great deal of additional information that was relevant, but not central, to the study charge. Appendix C is a summary of selected data and literature on the quantities and impacts of marine debris, and Appendix D includes a list of parties to both MARPOL Annex V and members of one or more international fishing agreements. Appendix E, provided by Jenna Jambeck (Professor, Environmental Engineering, University of New Hampshire), describes in further detail the options available for recycling or disposing of used and abandoned fishing gear.
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