October 11, 2018

Bipartisan Bill to Tackle Marine Debris Crisis Signed into Law

Save Our Seas Act to help communities address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and other waterways

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) cheered the signing by the president today of their bipartisan Save Our Seas (SOS) Act, to address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe.  The Senators, all members of the Senate Oceans Caucus, introduced the legislation in March 2017 to boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to the millions of tons of plastic waste and other garbage that litter our shores and pollute our oceans, endanger wildlife, and disrupt commerce.  The bill, signed during a ceremony at the White House today, will also foster cooperation between the United States and other nations to confront the crisis worldwide. 

“Everyone from scientists, to journalists, to fishermen, to coastal industries and international corporations are sounding the alarm about plastic trash and other marine debris polluting our oceans.  It’s time to protect our precious marine ecosystems and coastal economies from this threat,” said Senator Whitehouse, co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus.  “This bipartisan bill represents an important step forward in addressing the marine debris crisis.  Senators Sullivan, Booker, Inhofe and I were proud to pass it in the Senate, and I’m thrilled to see it signed at the White House today.”

“This bipartisan legislation is important for the country, for the world, and certainly for Alaska, which has more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 combined,” said Senator Sullivan. “The prevalence of marine debris on our shores is a chronic issue.  This bill will serve to strengthen the federal response capabilities to marine debris disasters, combat land based marine debris resources, and encourage interagency coordination in stemming the tide of ocean trash and importantly encourage the Trump administration to pursue international agreements with regard to this challenge.”

“Dangerously high levels of marine debris pollution in our oceans and waterways is an urgent environmental, economic and public health issue for coastal communities in New Jersey and across the country,” said Senator Booker. “Our bipartisan bill is a good first step toward the clean up of these waterways and shorelines throughout the United States and will boost our ability to coordinate with international partners to respond to this crisis.”

Every year, roughly eight million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans.  It then breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food web and harm fish and wildlife, and wash ashore on even the most remote beaches. 

The Save our Seas Act will help confront the marine debris crisis by:

  • Allowing the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response.  The governor of the affected state may request the NOAA Administrator make this declaration.
  • Reauthorizing NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022.  Its mission is to support research on the sources of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encouraging the executive branch to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into improved waste management infrastructure and new materials that reduce the risks of marine debris, examine the causes of ocean debris, pursue new international agreements to address this issue, harness the United States’ trade authority to urge other countries to improve their waste management systems, and to quantify the economic benefits for nations in addressing the crisis. 

Whitehouse, Sullivan, and Booker led 19 other Senate cosponsors of the bipartisan bill. 



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