(BIVN) – Marine debris is the “real sea monster” menacing Earth’s oceans, experts testified before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday.
The Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard convened a rescheduled hearing titled “Efforts on Marine Debris in the Oceans and Great Lakes” in order to “explore solutions to marine debris and provide oversight of current government efforts to clean up debris in our nation’s oceans and waterways.”
Marine debris is a large and growing global problem, wrote David Balton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries under the U.S. Department of State:
Though marine debris includes various materials, such as glass, metal, cloth, and rubber, one of the most common, and troublesome, is plastic. Plastic is a major source of marine debris due to its widespread use — a function of its utility, durability, and low price. Globally, reliable estimates indicate that plastic use may double by 2025 and quadruple by 2050, leading to a dramatic increase in marine debris unless we take action. Current estimates indicate that there are already 150 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean, with another 8 million tons added each year. Without action, there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025. By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean.
This plastic will not go away readily. Plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose naturally. Even worse, in many cases it degrades into smaller “micro plastic” fragments that are impossible to retrieve, but which enter the food chain when consumed by sea life.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program director Nancy Wallace wrote that a recent study estimated that “of the 275 million metric tons of plastic waste generated by 192 coastal countries in 2010, approximately 8 million metric tons entered the ocean (Jambeck et al. 2015).”
During the hearing, Wallace took questions from Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.