NOAA, EPA and other federal partners announced a new strategy this month to combat the global issue of trash in our ocean. The strategy focuses on four pillars: building capacity for better waste and litter management systems, incentivizing global recycling, promoting research and development, and removing debris.
The strategy recognizes marine debris, often referred to as marine litter, as a pervasive global problem that touches every corner of our ocean and coasts. Marine debris can travel long distances from its source of entry into the marine environment, and move across national boundaries and territorial waters. Marine debris is not only an environmental problem, but can have social, economic and political impacts and presents challenges to global food security. The Strategy outlines ways the United States will lead global efforts to prevent and reduce mismanagement of waste and improve the health of our shared global ocean resources.
"The power of America's blue economy is directly tied to the health of our ocean and coasts," said retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. "NOAA's leadership in preventing and removing marine debris, along with our partnership with EPA and so many others, represents a whole of government approach that this important strategy embodies."
In 2006, Congress authorized the NOAA Marine Debris Program as the U.S. federal government’s lead agency for addressing marine debris. Through the program, NOAA works on marine debris removal, prevention, research, regional coordination and emergency response.
Under the Marine Debris Act, NOAA also chairs the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee, which coordinates the government’s efforts to address the problem.
NOAA’s Marine Debris Program has provided more than $24 million in funding to partners for prevention, removal and research initiatives to address the issue. Thus far, the program has resulted in the removal of over 22,500 metric tons of marine debris from U.S. waters, engaged with more than 65,000 students on marine debris prevention activities, and developed 12 marine debris response guides and 11 regional action plans.
Internationally, NOAA supports key partnerships, provides input to collaborative scientific inquiry on the issue, and looks for ways to cooperate directly with and support other governments, civil society, private sector, and other entities to reduce marine debris globally. NOAA hosted or co-hosted all six International Marine Debris Conferences, high-profile international scientific forums for discussing the many aspects of marine debris. The most recent event in San Diego included about 700 participants from 54 counties.
In 2020, NOAA also received $8 million through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act to carry out marine debris prevention and removal projects in North America to preserve human health and marine and coastal ecosystems, prevent the loss of biodiversity, and mitigate the costs and impacts of marine debris.