Many of us have walked a stretch of beach and encountered trash. With many people living along coasts, it's not surprising that waste ends up on nearby beaches. Garbage and waste also ends up in the open ocean, far from shore. How did it get there? How are we supposed to remove it, along with the many other small debris islands drifting along in the currents and the microscopic plastic particles that we can't see, but that have converged in massive "garbage patches" in the world's oceans? Should we resign ourselves to the fact that debris will continue to accumulate in our oceans? Or can we do something about it?
On September 15, people around the world took part in the International Coastal Cleanup with the goal of removing litter from coastlines and raising awareness of how to reduce the debris entering our waterways. The annual International Coastal Cleanup provides an opportunity to make local impacts that have a global influence.
Marine debris includes human-made solid material that has been discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the environment, such as abandoned and derelict fishing gear, plastic bags and bottles, microplastics, and abandoned and derelict vessels. Why should we care? Marine debris can harm vulnerable and sensitive marine and coastal habitats, and marine species can ingest or become entangled in debris. Marine debris also negatively impacts human health and safety and commercial marine activities.
Over half of the U.S. population lives within a coastal watershed, resulting in tremendous pressure on coastal ecosystems. The density and growth of coastal populations has fostered U.S. efforts and international leadership to address marine debris.
One recent international initiative on marine debris is the Honolulu Strategy, a global framework to prevent, reduce, manage, and reduce impacts of marine debris over 10 years. Reaching this goal requires action at global, regional, country, local, and individual levels. The Honolulu Commitment is a related set of pledges that anyone can make to address the global challenge of marine debris.
In the past year, the United States has worked to address marine debris washing ashore in western states resulting from the tragic events surrounding the 2011 tsunami that struck northern Japan. Focus on the Japan tsunami marine debris has fostered cooperation amongst federal, state and local stakeholders to face this challenge. Ongoing work on marine debris in the United States has generated opportunities to share U.S. lessons learned with the international community.
As more people migrate to coastal regions, it is important to address the causes of marine debris. By disposing of trash properly and reusing or recycling items when possible, you can make a difference in reducing litter in marine and coastal environments. If you weren't able to join this year's International Coastal Cleanup, you can show your commitment to addressing the challenge of marine debris by taking steps to reduce debris all year long.