From the shores of Washington State to the Congressional floor in Washington, D.C., the prospect of increasing tsunami debris on West Coast beaches has grabbed the attention of the public, the media, scientists and decision-makers alike. However, tsunami debris—an unavoidable, unpreventable disaster—is a small part of the much larger issue of marine debris that’s choking our ocean and littering our beaches, and with it comes the need for continued resources and political support.
That’s why it’s pivotal for members to vote to reauthorize the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act when it hits the House floor today. It is a necessary first step that will enable Congress to work with the Senate to ensure NOAA has the proper funding it needs to combat ocean trash and tsunami debris washing onto our beaches.
Ocean trash is a very real problem. Aesthetically, marine debris creates visual pollution in otherwise pristine landscape. Economically, the cost of daily beach cleaning is in the millions of dollars, while maritime industries confront significantly higher costs. Environmentally, marine debris impacts a diverse range of marine wildlife globally, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered.
But compared to other forms of ocean research, marine debris science is in its infancy. Therefore, additional funding and research is imperative to fully understand the impacts of marine debris on ocean ecosystems and the people and communities who depend on them.
Reauthorization is important to ensure NOAA can continue its vital work to protect our ocean and its resources from the global threat of marine debris. Just two weeks ago, NOAA returned from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where NOAA researchers removed 50 metric tons of debris from beaches and fringing reefs where threatened and endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal seek refuge. NOAA is ramping up efforts to research and monitor tsunami debris as well, by establishing approximately 60 debris monitoring sites on the West Coast to identify ocean trash baselines that potential future tsunami debris events can be measured against.
We need to educate and enlighten the public on the issue of ocean trash—whether from the tsunami or from the constant trash that flows into the ocean and coastal waterways every day.
We cannot predict the future; we can only plan for it. So let’s work toward ending ocean trash by reauthorizing the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act.