A far distance spans between a windswept beach in Alaska and the hushed chambers of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Yet the two locales are linked by Congress’ recent and final passage of the Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation cosponsored by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan.
The legislation, which builds on the 2018 Save Our Seas Act’s focus on reducing marine debris, is now headed to the president’s desk for signature.
“Save Our Seas 2.0 is the most comprehensive marine debris legislation ever to pass Congress,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement on Dec. 1 after the Senate approved technical changes made by the U.S. House.
Sullivan cited bipartisan support for the bill, which was cosponsored in the Senate by Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. In the House, the legislation was cosponsored by Alaska Rep. Don Young and Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.
“This proves that major bipartisan achievements on some of the biggest environmental challenges are possible,” Sullivan said. “The progress we have made over the past few years on the marine debris crisis, beginning with the original Save Our Seas Act, is historic and constitutes a whole-of-government approach to helping protect our pristine environment across the globe and, particularly, in Alaska, which has more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 combined. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for coming together to clean up our oceans, spark innovation on managing plastic waste, and protect our fisheries and coastal communities.”
Many residents of Ketchikan, Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island have stood on a local beach, looked out across expanses of ocean water and marveled at the wonderful place in which we live. Then we’ve turned around and gazed into a tree line choked with jetsam and flotsam — much of plastic and all of it unwanted here.
If you were to pick up, say, 10 items of such marine debris from a local shore and trace those items back to their points of origin, you’d be describing a global supply chain of commerce; waste management systems or lack thereof; perhaps storms and shipping accidents; and a host of weather and tidal patterns.
A squad of local volunteers can tidy up a section of beach relatively quickly. Addressing the factors that result in an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastics — in addition to other types of debris — into the world’s oceans each year is a staggeringly complex task.
That’s where efforts such as the Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation come in. International in scope and aspirational in nature, Save Our Seas 2.0 could produce the strategies that will reduce the amount of material that becomes marine debris fouling our local beaches.
So, what will it actually do?
Sen. Menendez highlighted some aspects of the Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation during remarks Tuesday on the Senate floor
“It creates a new marine debris foundation,” Menendez said. “It creates a genius prize for innovation in trying to get rid of or reinvent or reimagine our plastic disposal system. It creates new research to tackle this issue. It focuses more ... directly on our international relations because so much of the marine plastic waste comes out of foreign shores and down foreign rivers. It also focuses on our domestic waste management program.
“This is a good step,” Menendez continued. “I have heard people say that 2.0 is not enough. Darn right it is not enough, but this is how you build momentum.”
We’ll take momentum. And the legislators will be prudent to monitor the systems they’ve established in Save Our Seas 2.0 to ensure that momentum produces results.
On the issue of marine debris, passing legislation is the easy part. The hard work is still ahead.