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Suggested Citation:"Benthic Surveys of Plastic Debris." National Research Council. 1995. Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Controlling Garbage and Plastic Wastes at Sea. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4769.
Page 218

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MEASURING PROGRESS IN IMPLEMENTATION OF ANNEX V 218 and assess a long-term record of contaminant concentrations and biological responses to contamination in the coastal and estuarine waters of the United States" (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1988). Beach Surveys of Plastic Debris To date, most studies of plastics accumulating on beaches have two deficiencies with respect to pinpointing the flux of materials regulated by Annex V. First, these surveys may not be conducted often enough, in that the residence time of debris on beaches appears to be only a matter of months or, in some cases, days. If these estimates are accurate, then the results drawn from less-frequent sampling probably underestimate the true fluxes. Second, these studies record the incidence of all debris on a beach and may include plastic discards from non-ship sources such as storm drains, recreational activities, and sewers, thereby confusing the results. To assure uniformity in data gathering, a dedicated collection team could be employed.3 An alternative would be to train volunteers to identify debris items in a uniform manner, perhaps by using a manual such as the Pocket Guide to Marine Debris (Center for Marine Conservation, 1993). As data were collected, all debris would be removed from each sampling site. Materials to be counted would in-elude all plastics and, in some areas, non-plastic debris such as waste from fishing activities. For the program to be thorough, all U.S. coasts would have to be monitored. Monitoring sites might be designated on each coast and the Gulf of Alaska, where large amounts of debris from fishing activities accumulate. The collection team could survey each site on a regular basis. Because Annex V regulates only vessel garbage, monitoring sites could be sought that receive minimal discards from land sources. Perhaps uninhabited offshore islands would provide the most reasonable monitoring sites4; another possibility would be beaches closed to public use due to their association with active or abandoned naval target ranges. Benthic Surveys of Plastic Debris The objectives of benthic surveys would be to measure the amounts and 3 Such a strategy was employed during the EPA-sponsored National Mussel Watch from 1976 to 1978, in which sentinel organisms were collected at over 100 stations on the East, West and Gulf coasts (Goldberg et al., 1983). Two scientists acted as a dedicated collection team. The program has been continued and expanded under NOAA's Status and Trends Program. 4 Data collected on Sable Island provides ample evidence of the transport of human- generated garbage across vast expanses of water onto a sparsely inhabited, windswept island (Lucas, 1992). Copious amounts of debris from ships also have washed up on remote Hawaiian island beaches (Marine Mammal Commission, 1992).

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Marine debris is a serious environmental problem. To do its part, the United States has agreed to abide by the international treaty for garbage control at sea, known as MARPOL 73/78 Annex V.

Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans explores the challenge of translating Annex V into workable laws and regulations for all kinds of ships and boats, from cruise ships to fishing crafts and recreational boats. The volume examines how existing resources can be leveraged into a comprehensive strategy for compliance, including integrated waste management systems and effective enforcement.

Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans describes both progress toward and obstacles to Annex V compliance. The book covers:

  • How shipborne garbage orignates and what happens to garbage discharged into the seas.
  • Effects of discharge on human health, wildlife safety, and aesthetics.
  • Differences in perspective among military, industrial, and recreational seafarers and shoreside facilities.

Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans will be important to marine policymakers, port administrators, ship operations officers, maritime engineers, and marine ecologists.

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