Everyone knows dumping trash into the ocean is a bad idea, right? Well, apparently not everyone. At a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. delegation—led by the U.S. Coast Guard—opposed a proposal to ban the dumping of garbage in the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic is one of Earth’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of the world’s largest seabird populations and iconic wildlife like polar bears, belugas and the extremely long-lived bowhead whale. The unspoiled nature of the Arctic doesn’t mean it’s without threats.
In fact, today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges from oil and gas development and other industrial activity, increasing water temperatures and climate change impacts—all jeopardizing the integrity of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Adding ocean trash to this list of pressures is simply not acceptable.
Ocean Conservancy is working to help employ science-based solutions that will ensure Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. Allowing vessels to deliberately dump waste into the Arctic just doesn’t fit into the equation for a resilient Arctic ecosystem.
Canada and Russia banned ships from dumping their garbage in Arctic waters with no adverse consequences for shipping. However, this ban applies only to these countries’ territorial waters. The Arctic Ocean is a single ecosystem, and we know all too well that trash does not abide by country boundaries. This means garbage dumped into territorial waters of the United States can endanger wildlife inside and outside of our borders, potentially compromising the Arctic’s entire marine ecosystem.
Arctic summer sea ice is shrinking to ever-lower levels, and more and more vessels are venturing into the open water. As vessel traffic in the region grows, so too does the threat posed by discharging trash and other waste into Arctic waters. Therefore, it’s critical that we put in place strong environmental protection measures for the Arctic now, before the pressures of shipping in the region escalate even more.
We are working hard to keep plastics and trash out of our global ocean, yet the Coast Guard seems OK with allowing ships to litter our Arctic waters. I don’t get it. There’s no good reason for the United States to oppose a garbage ban in the Arctic.
The decision at hand is a simple one: ships simply should not be allowed to dump their garbage in the remote and beautiful waters of the Arctic Ocean. Join Ocean Conservancy in urging the Coast Guard to reverse course and support a ban on the discharge of garbage in the Arctic.