LITTER: The problem
Each year thousands of marine mammals, birds, and fish are
victims of our throw-away society. Dolphins swallow plastic
bags and suffocate. Birds dive through six-pack yokes and
strangle themselves. Fish swallow indigestible floating plastic
pellets. Trash is literally one of the biggest problems facing
our nation's beaches. On the surface, it spoils the scenery.
But as the trash piles up, so do the consequences. Rusty cans
pose danger for barefooted beachgoers. Scrapped fishing line
clogs motorboat propellers. And the trash costs coastal communities
tourist dollars. But worst of all, trash is deadly. More often
than not, the killer is plastic litter. That synthetic wonder
material built to last a lifetime sucks the breath from marine
wildlife. Some experts say that cleaning up the seas is likely
to become one of the most pressing environmental issues of
the next decade.
LITTER: It's lethal
is more than an unsightly mess. It kills.
one knows for sure how many marine animals are affected,
but biologists say that for every animal they find entangled
in a net or strangled with monofilament line, there are
many more they don't see.
year 30,000 Northern fur seals die after they become entangled
in discarded fishing nets and plastic strapping bands, says
Kathryn O'Hare, marine biologist with the Center for Environmental
of the world's 280 species of seabirds are known to ingest
everything from plastic pellets to bottle caps. Each year,
more then 250,000 seabirds get tangled in offshore drift
turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, their favorite
food. And thousands of turtles, fish, and birds die each
year because they get stuck in plastic refuse or swallow
it and choke to death.
North Carolina, ornithologist James Parnell found the body
of a laughing gull with fishing line twisted around its
spindly legs and feet. But when he picked up the remaining
line to reel it in, he found the bodies of five more birds
strung together. The fishing line was meant to capture fish.
Instead, a careless fisherman killed six birds.
LITTER: It lasts
More plastic is produced in the United States than the combined
output of steel, aluminum and copper. And unfortunately, the
qualities that make plastic so popular – light weight,
durability and strength – also make it a terror on the
high seas. Some plastics are engineered to last more than
450 years. That means one six-pack yoke has the potential
to kill over and over again. But the problem is not how much
plastic we produce or use; it's how we dispose of it.
LITTER: The law
The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987
is a U.S. law that implements Annex V of the International
Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (called
MARPOL, for marine pollution). The MPPRCA prohibits the dumping
of plastics within 200 miles of the nation's territorial waters
and in all navigable inland waters. The provisions apply to
all vessels, from the smallest fishing boat all the way up
also requires ports and terminals to provide waste reception
facilities or to contract with a private company to provide
the facilities. Marinas and public and private terminals are
covered by the law.
Littering is a crime in every state, but in most cases, enforcement
of the litter laws is simply a low priority.
an offender, a law officer must witness the act. But in some
states, citizen witnesses are accepted.
method of dealing with litterers is imposing a fine or, in
the case of repeated offenses, short-term imprisonment. Fines
range from $50 to $500 per offense.
Some states have even adopted a policy of requiring offenders
to do community service work.
LITTER: Where is it coming from?
The litterbugs vary.
Careless beachgoers leave behind styrofoam cups, sandwich
bags, fast food containers and other trash. But beachgoers,
often the easiest group to target, are only part of the problem.
offenders include merchant ships, the U.S. Navy, and commercial
and recreational fishermen.
Coast Guard estimates that recreational boaters generate about
34,000 metric tons of garbage per day, or about a pound per
fishermen lose or discard tons of fishing gear yearly. And
derelict fishing nets don't stop fishing once they're discarded.
They continue to catch fish and entangle marine wildlife for
many more years.
states, the source of trash is hard to pinpoint. In Texas,
for example, 75 to 90 percent of the trash that shows up on
its beaches comes from offshore sources. Gulf of Mexico currents
converge on Texas beaches, bringing trash that flowed down
the Mississippi, litter from offshore oil rigs and garbage
from foreign ships.
LITTER: Are there any solutions?
Researchers are working on degradable plastics.
such as the National Sea Grant Program are educating people
about the perils of marine debris, especially plastics to
wildlife and our environment.
states are now sponsoring beach cleanups.
LITTER: What can you do about it?
the beach belongs to you. Don't toss trash overboard or
leave debris on the beach. Every litter bit hurts.
as few plastic and metal products as possible onboard vessels
and to the beech. When you're fishing, don't discard any
pieces of torn net, broken fishing line or plastic bait
bags in the water. Dispose of worn-out fishing gear onshore.
the solution to pollution. Don't be part of the problem.