Advocate for Healthy Oceans

Everyone, everywhere on Earth needs healthy oceans, but the key decisions are made by people in governments, the United Nations and other governing institutions.

Using the scientific insights we gather, analyze and discuss every day, Marine Conservation Institute advocates policies to protect and recover healthy, diverse, productive oceans for all of us, now and in future generations.

We seek out policy makers that can make a difference, and help them understand they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

Lawmakers and officials listen to us because they know that the latest science shapes everything we do.  All of our recommendations are based on our best understanding of how our living oceans and our societies work.

And they listen to us because they know we listen to them, to ocean users and scientists.  We listen so we can fashion workable solutions in which all people win.

We care not only about the oceans themselves, but for the billions of people—everyone on Earth—whose life depends on healthy oceans.

Working to benefit corals, fishes and whales, things people love and things people scarcely know, is essential to protecting our economy, our jobs, our health and security because they’re all tied to the Earth’s biggest life support system.  Protecting this life support system is our gift to this and future generations.

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Modest Year End Victory: Marine Debris Bill Finally Passes Congress

In December, the US Congress reached a milestone in environmental lawmaking, and almost no one noticed. On December 12th, having voted 316 times in the past two years to roll back environmental and related health protections, the 112th Congress finally passed a piece of pro-environment legislation  -- the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012. This bipartisan, pro-environment law ensures that the Federal government continues to analyze, map, and coordinate with the states to prevent and clean up marine debris, the trash in our oceans and on our coastlines.  

Marine Conservation Institute worked hard to help pass this legislation, in part, because of the impact that debris has on marine wildlife and on marine protected areas.  We focused on it, especially this year, so that the federal government would be ready for the onslaught of marine debris from the Japanese Tsunami that is predicted to hit Hawaii, Alaska, and the other West Coast states over the next few years. These are states with substantial numbers of marine sanctuaries, marine monuments, and state designated marine areas that will need cleanup after the extra trash hits.  We are particularly concerned with the potential impact of all this debris on the marine environment of the Pacific.  Already, NOAA removes 50 tons of marine trash per year in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which is sure to increase once the Tsunami debris hits.

Scientists estimate that every year, at least 11 billion pounds of trash ends up in the oceans worldwide, much of it made out of plastic that will take tens or hundreds of years to degrade.  Much of this plastic material is designed for durability, yet its useful life is often only as long as a trip from a fast food restaurant to someone’s house.  For that reason, scientists now find marine debris literally everywhere they look in the ocean. There isn’t a single ocean area free of marine debris today, from the Southern Ocean to the ice-covered Arctic.

What is the impact on marine life of those 11 billion pounds of cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, food wrappers, Styrofoam floats and coffee cups, rope, nets, and the other detritus of modern civilization?  Debris damages every class of marine life: marine mammals become entangled in plastic ropes and nets; sea turtles and sea birds starve to death after eating plastic bags and bits in the mistaken belief they are food; coral reefs are smothered by netting or torn apart by rolling balls of net and rope.  And finally, creatures at the bottom of ocean food chains eat inert micro-plastic bits and pass them up the food chain as they themselves are eaten.

Does passage of the Marine Debris bill foretell a trend that might carry over to the new 113th Congress that begins in late January?  We certainly hope it does.  Our oceans and marine protected areas need all the protection we can get from marine debris and other threats.  Important issues like illegal fishing, the expansion of marine protected areas, and strengthening the current rules for marine protected areas could all benefit from Congressional or executive branch action in 2013 and beyond.  Marine Conservation Institute will be hard at work on these issues and calling on our readers to communicate with Congress and the Administration in support of these efforts in the New Year.