National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"FATES AND EFFECTS OF MARINE 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.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2 SOURCES OF VESSEL GARBAGE The committee examined individually each fleet operating in U.S. waters, because Annex V implementation constraints and opportunities vary so widely within the overall maritime community. The nine fleets examined were recreational boats; commercial fishing vessels; cargo ships; passenger day boats and ferries; small public vessels (Coast Guard and naval auxiliaries); offshore oil platforms, figs, and supply vessels; U.S. Navy surface combatant vessels; passenger cruise ships; and research vessels. Considerable amounts of garbage are generated by most if not all sectors, but available data concerning garbage generated and disposal practices are imprecise and incomplete. Detailed, comprehensive data on garbage generation have been collected only for the Navy. Neither U.S. nor international Annex V compliance and enforcement programs support the gathering of such data for other sectors. FATES AND EFFECTS OF MARINE DEBRIS Knowledge concerning the movement of marine debris is derived primarily from beach surveys; little data is available on debris that ends up in the sea or on the seabed. It is difficult to obtain such data without a systematic, worldwide effort involving the cooperation of multiple maritime nations, so an international data collection effort would be useful. The harmful effects of marine debris, particularly plastics, are all too evident, albeit not documented in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Plastics are causing considerable harm, including mortality among individual marine mammals, turtles, birds, and fish, as a result of either entanglement or ingestion. However, the overall ecological effects of marine debris cannot be established on the basis of surveys and other information-gathering efforts conducted to date, due primarily to the lack of a common framework for data collection, centralized data analysis, and information exchange. Scientists suspect that entire populations of animals may be affected adversely by debris in the water or washed up on shore, and that debris accumulations in the benthos may interfere with dissolved gas exchange between the pore waters of the sediment and the overlying waters, leading to hypoxic or anoxic1 environments that can kill some organisms. The committee concludes that (1) statistically valid long-term programs are needed to monitor the flux of plastics in the oceans, assess the accumulation of debris in the benthos, and monitor interactions of marine species with debris in the oceans and the impact of debris on pristine areas; and (2) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) is best equipped of all federal agencies to lead a monitoring effort, because its Marine Entanglement Research Program (MERP) has collected much of the existing knowledge on marine de-bris, 1 An hypoxic environment is oxygen deficient; anoxia results when oxygen is absent entirely.

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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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