Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act

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Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act


By: United States Congress

Date: February 10, 2005

Source: U.S. Congress. "Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act." February 10, 2005. 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

About the Author: The Congress of the United States was established by Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. It is the legislative arm of the U.S. Federal Government.


Marine debris is urban or industrial waste that has ended up polluting the oceans. Various substances, such as empty cans, plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, damaged fishing line, plastic packaging, and Styrofoam pellets are examples of marine debris.

Marine debris is first-hand evidence of humans directly meddling on land and sea. A report posted on the Web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mentions that waste from the land contributes up to nearly 80 percent of marine debris.

Quite often, debris accumulates on the ocean floor and becomes an unwanted part of the marine ecosystem. Floating debris can travel deep into the sea. This causes immense harm to coral reefs and other fragile components of the marine ecosystem.

Marine animals like seals, sea lions, and seabirds mistake floating debris such as burst balloons, plastic packaging, and floating thermoCole pellets for food. Ingestion of this debris has caused the death of many marine animals and seabirds. This includes many endangered species as well. An EPA report mentioned that nearly 30,000 fur seals are entangled in discarded fishing nets every year. Most drown or suffocate.

The concept of stronger legislation to combat this menace has gained further ground, with the problem of marine debris in coastal areas and even the open seas assuming acute proportions. This concern has been reflected in the bill introduced by Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye.

Since the introduction of the bill, it has passed through various stages. The Senate passed the bill in July 2005, and as of late 2005 was awaiting approval from the House of Representatives. The bill proposes to seek coordination between federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Coast Guard for marine debris research, prevention, and reduction. It also seeks to introduce a monetary fund of around $10 million for this task.



(a) FINDINGS-The Congress makes the following findings:

  1. The oceans, which comprise nearly three quarters of the Earth's surface, are an important source of food and provide a wealth of other natural products that are important to the economy of the United States and the world.
  2. Ocean and coastal areas are regions of remarkably high biological productivity, are of considerable importance for a variety of recreational and commercial activities, and provide a vital means of transportation.
  3. Ocean and coastal resources are limited and susceptible to change as a direct and indirect result of human activities, and such changes can impact the ability of the ocean to provide the benefits upon which the Nation depends.
  4. Marine debris, including plastics, derelict fishing gear, and a wide variety of other objects, has a harmful and persistent effect on marine flora and fauna and can have adverse impacts on human health.
  5. Marine debris is also a hazard to navigation, putting mariners and rescuers, their vessels, and consequently the marine environment at risk, and can cause economic loss due to entanglement of vessel systems.
  6. Modern plastic materials persist for decades in the marine environment and therefore pose the greatest potential for long-term damage to the marine environment.
  7. Insufficient knowledge and data on the source, movement, and effects of plastics and other marine debris in marine ecosystems has hampered efforts to develop effective approaches for addressing marine debris.
  8. Lack of resources, inadequate attention to this issue, and poor coordination at the Federal level has undermined the development and implementation of a Federal program to address marine debris, both domestically and internationally.

(b) PURPOSES-The purposes of this Act are—

  1. to establish programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Coast Guard to help identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris and its adverse impacts on the marine environment and navigation safety, in coordination with other Federal and non-Federal entities;
  2. to re-establish the Inter-agency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee to ensure a coordinated government response across Federal agencies;
  3. to develop a Federal information clearinghouse to enable researchers to study the sources, scale and impact of marine debris more efficiently; and
  4. to take appropriate action in the international community to prevent marine debris and reduce concentrations of existing debris on a global scale.


(a) ESTABLISHMENT OF PROGRAM—There is established, within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Program to reduce and prevent the occurrence and adverse impacts of marine debris on the marine environment and navigation safety.

(b) PROGRAM COMPONENTS—Through the Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Program, the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere (Under Secretary) shall carry out the following activities:

(1) MAPPING, IDENTIFICATION, IMPACT ASSESSMENT, REMOVAL, AND PREVENTION—The Under Secretary shall, in consultation with relevant Federal agencies, undertake marine debris mapping, identification, impact assessment, prevention, and removal efforts, with a focus on marine debris posing a threat to living marine resources (particularly endangered or protected species) and navigation safety, including—

(A) the establishment of a process, building on existing information sources maintained by Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard, for cataloguing and maintaining an inventory of marine debris and its impacts found in the United States navigable waters and the United States exclusive economic zone, including location, material, size, age, and origin, and impacts on habitat, living marine resources, human health, and navigation safety;

(B) measures to identify the origin, location, and projected movement of marine debris within the United States navigable waters, the United States exclusive economic zone, and the high seas, including the use of oceanographic, atmospheric, satellite, and remote sensing data; and

(C) development and implementation of strategies, methods, priorities, and a plan for preventing and removing marine debris from United States navigable waters and within the United States exclusive economic zone, including development of local or regional protocols for removal of derelict fishing gear.

(2) REDUCING AND PREVENTING LOSS OF GEAR—The Under Secretary shall improve efforts and actively seek to prevent and reduce fishing gear losses, as well as to reduce adverse impacts of such gear on living marine resources and navigation safety, including—

(A) research and development of alternatives to gear posing threats to the marine environment , and methods for marking gear used in specific fisheries to enhance the tracking, recovery, and identification of lost and discarded gear; and

(B) development of voluntary or mandatory measures to reduce the loss and discard of fishing gear, and to aid its recovery, such as incentive programs, reporting loss and recovery of gear, observer programs, toll-free reporting hotlines, computerbased notification forms, and providing adequate and free disposal receptacles at ports.

(3) OUTREACH—The Under Secretary shall undertake outreach and education of the public and other stakeholders, such as the fishing industry, fishing gear manufacturers, and other marine-dependent industries, on sources of marine debris, threats associated with marine debris and approaches to identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris and its adverse impacts on the marine environment and navigational safety. Including outreach and education activities through public-private initiatives. The Under Secretary shall coordinate outreach and education activities under this paragraph with any outreach programs conducted under section 2204 of the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 (33 U.S.C. 1915).

(c) Grants—

(1) IN GENERAL—The Under Secretary shall provide financial assistance, in the form of grants, through the Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Program for projects to accomplish the purposes of this Act.

(2) 50 percent matching requirement—

(A) IN GENERAL—Except as provided in subparagraph (B), Federal funds for any project under this section may not exceed 50 percent of the total cost of such project. For purposes of this subparagraph, the non-Federal share of project costs may be provided by in-kind contributions and other noncash support.

(B) WAIVER—The Under Secretary may waive all or part of the matching requirement under subparagraph (A) if the Under Secretary determines that no reasonable means are available through which applicants can meet the matching requirement and the probable benefit of such project outweighs the public interest in such matching requirement.

(3) Amounts paid and services rendered under consent—

(A) CONSENT DECREES AND ORDERS—The non-Federal share of the cost of a project carried out under this Act may include money paid pursuant to, or the value of any in-kind service performed under, an administrative order on consent or judicial consent decree that will remove or prevent marine debris.

(B) OTHER DECREES AND ORDERS—The non-Federal share of the cost of a project carried out under this Act may not include any money paid pursuant to, or the value of any in-kind service performed under, any other administrative order or court order.

(4) ELIGIBILITY—Any natural resource management authority of a State, Federal or other government authority whose activities directly or indirectly affect research or regulation of marine debris, and any educational or non-governmental institutions with demonstrated expertise in a field related to marine debris, are eligible to submit to the Under Secretary a marine debris proposal under the grant program.

(5) GRANT CRITERIA AND GUIDELINES—Within 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Under Secretary shall promulgate necessary guidelines for implementation of the grant program, including development of criteria and priorities for grants. Such priorities may include proposals that would reduce new sources of marine debris and provide additional benefits to the public, such as recycling of marine debris or use of biodegradable materials. In developing those guidelines, the Under Secretary shall consult with:—

(A) the Interagency Marine Debris Committee;

(B) regional fishery management councils established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.);

(C) State, regional, and local governmental entities with marine debris experience;

(D) marine-dependent industries; and

(E) non-governmental organizations involved in marine debris research, prevention, or removal activities.

(6) PROJECT REVIEW AND APPROVAL—The Under Secretary shall review each marine debris project proposal to determine if it meets the grant criteria and supports the goals of the Act. Not later than 120 days after receiving a project proposal under this section, the Under Secretary shall:—

(A) provide for external merit-based peer review of the proposal;

(B) after considering any written comments and recommendations based on the review, approve or disapprove the proposal; and

(C) provide written notification of that approval or disapproval to the person who submitted the proposal.

(7) PROJECT REPORTING—Each grantee under this section shall provide periodic reports as required by the Under Secretary. Each report shall include all information required by the Under Secretary for evaluating the progress and success in meeting its stated goals, and impact on the marine debris problem.

SEC. 4. COAST GUARD PROGRAM. The Commandant of the Coast Guard shall, in cooperation with the Under Secretary, undertake measures to reduce violations of MARPOL Annex V and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (33 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) with respect to the discard of plastics and other garbage from vessels. The measures shall include—

  1. the development of a strategy to improve monitoring and enforcement of current laws, as well as recommendations for statutory or regulatory changes to improve compliance and for the development of any appropriate amendments to MARPOL;
  2. regulations to address implementation gaps with respect to the requirement of MARPOL Annex V and section 6 of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (33 U.S.C. 1905) that all United States ports and terminals maintain receptacles for disposing of plastics and other garbage, which may include measures to ensure that a sufficient quantity of such facilities exist at all such ports and terminals, requirements for logging the waste received, and for Coast Guard comparison of vessel and port log books to determine compliance;
  3. regulations to close record keeping gaps, which may include requiring fishing vessels under 400 gross tons entering United States ports to maintain records subject to Coast Guard inspection on the disposal of plastics and other garbage, that, at a minimum, include the time, date, type of garbage, quantity, and location of discharge by latitude and longitude or, if discharged on land, the name of the port where such material is offloaded for disposal;
  4. regulations to improve ship-board waste management, which may include expanding to smaller vessels existing requirements to maintain ship-board receptacles and maintain a ship-board waste management plan, taking into account potential economic impacts and technical feasibility;
  5. the development, through outreach to commercial vessel operators and recreational boaters, of a voluntary reporting program, along with the establishment of a central reporting location, for incidents of damage to vessels caused by marine debris, as well as observed violations of existing laws and regulations relating to disposal of plastics and other marine debris; and
  6. a voluntary program encouraging United States flag vessels to inform the Coast Guard of any ports in other countries that lack adequate port reception facilities for garbage.


Marine debris has become a recurring problem since the late 1980s and poses a grave threat to the pristine marine environment. It is a considerable hazard to marine life and is a constant danger for marine navigation. Disasters like shipwrecks, oil tanker accidents, and offshore oil rig fires contribute to this problem, as does the disposal of urban garbage into oceans, dumping of waste oil by passing ships, commercial coastal and offshore entertainment, and deepsea industrial and nuclear waste dumps.

Expanding oil and gas exploration activities into deeper seas is a serious threat to the marine environment. Over a prolonged period, accumulated debris fouls the seas and kills marine life. Marine debris is also a growing problem for fishing communities and shipping because it causes a loss in fishing harvest, a vital source of sustenance for many fishing communities. Vessels damaged by marine debris collisions can cost a shipping company a fortune to repair.

The Act aims to establish a variety of federal programs involving various federal agencies like the NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard for marine debris research, prevention, and reduction. It will provide a $10 million annual fund for the NOAA and $5 million for the U.S. Coast Guard for the proposed activities. There is also a proposal to pursue research activities by setting up a clearinghouse for academics and research. The Act also calls for global steps to prevent further dumping of debris into the marine environment and to include punitive measures in the event of its breach.

Many marine environmental agencies like Ocean Conserve and Project Aware have lauded the introduction of this bill. It is seen by environmentalists as a step in the right direction to tackle this problem, though the impact this bill would have on the improvement of marine debris control and the general improvement on the coastal and marine environment remains to be observed.


Web sites

"The Problem with Marine Debris." California Coastal Commission. 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

"Marine Debris." Pacific Whale Foundation. 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

"Assessing and Monitoring Floatable Debris." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

"Marine Debris Abatement." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 〈〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

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Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act

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