NO SOONER had President Trump signed into law the reauthorization of a program to combat marine debris than a bipartisan group of senators began work on a comprehensive bill advancing a more ambitious approach to cleaning up the world’s oceans. Mindful that the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic and junk is dumped into oceans every minute, the senators rightly saw this as a crisis that demanded strong action. They called it upping the ante, and the Senate, much to its credit, gave its unanimous approval to far-reaching legislation that targets the global challenge of marine debris. We hope the House follows suit.
The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act addresses the crisis of plastic waste and ocean debris that threatens coastal economies and harms marine life. The bill, introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), attacks the problem on three fronts — improving the ability of the United States to respond to marine debris events (such as a container ship accident) and clean up waste; working toward international cooperation and agreements on ocean cleanup; and exploring new, innovative ways to manage and reuse plastic waste.
The scope of the problem posed by the plastic bottles, straws, grocery bags, cigarette butts, six-pack rings, discarded fishing gear, abandoned vessels and other assorted trash that litter oceans is staggering. The United Nations estimates the amount at more than 8 million tons a year. The consequences — to coastal communities, marine life and habitats, and the maritime industry — are profound.
“We don’t have a moment to lose in confronting this problem,” the three senators wrote in an op-ed for Roll Call that explained how they wanted to build even more momentum for ocean cleanup after the president signed the Save Our Seas bill in October 2018 that reauthorized the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program through fiscal 2022. Despite their political differences, the trio represent coastal states and so have what they called “a front-row seat” to the peril caused by ocean debris. The bill they drafted is the result of comments and ideas from researchers, federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations and industry.
The bill has bipartisan support in the House, and that’s encouraging. Even if it wins final congressional approval and is signed by the president, it will be only the start of the hard work that needs to be done to clean up the mess we are making of our oceans.