Agencies hope to finalize marine debris plan update

Strategy update could provide new ways to prevent and reduce ocean litter.

STATEWIDE — A multiagency effort to update California’s strategies and objectives on marine debris prevention and reduction could be taking final shape as the end of 2017 nears.

The Ocean Protection Council (OPC), in conjunction with California Coastal Commission, California Sea Grant, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program and Surfrider Foundation, recently completed a public input period for the state’s “Ocean Litter Protection Strategy” document.

            OPC had prepared the original implementation strategy to reduce and prevent marine debris in 2008.

A draft version of “California Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy: Addressing Marine Debris from Source to Sea” was presented by the collaborative team of OPC, NOAA and California Sea Grant in September, with the final draft expected to be made available to the public in mid- to late-November.

The draft strategy update identified ocean litter and marine debris as a “persistent” and “well-documented” problem.

“Between 1950 and 2015, 6,300 million metric tons of primary and secondary (or recycled) plastic waste was produced worldwide. Approximately 12 percent of this plastic waste was incinerated, and 9 percent was recycled, while 79 percent was discarded and is currently sitting in landfills or the environment,” authors of the draft strategy update stated.

Authors of the 2017 draft strategy update stated much has happened in the past nine years.

“Since the original strategy was developed, many of the actions described in the document have either been accomplished or are in progress,” the draft strategy update’s authors stated. “In some cases, the State’s regulatory or agency landscape has changed. In other cases, our understanding of the ocean litter problem has changed considerably since 2008, and some of the actions that were outlined in the 2008 strategy may no longer be the best way to go about addressing ocean litter.

“In addition, new forms of ocean litter, such as microfibers, have been identified since 2008, and are not covered in the original strategy,” the draft strategy update stated.

The 2017 strategy update identified three priorities to reduce and prevent ocean litter or marine debris: prohibit single use products (straws, stirrer, balloons, etc.); phase out single use products at public institutions (government buildings, campuses); and, reduce microplastics in wastewater discharge.

Marine debris, according to the drafted strategy update, originates from either land-based or ocean-based sources.

Ocean-based sources include recreational or commercial fishing activities, shipping lines and aquaculture venues, according to OPC, NOAA and California Sea Grant’s draft strategy update.

Litter disposed of land but eventually transported to the ocean – primarily by wind or via storm drains – makes up a majority of the debris in our waterways, according to the draft strategy update.

Plastic pollution is one of the most common forms of debris found in the water, planners at OPC, NOAA and California Sea Grant stated. The economic impact of plastic pollution, according to the draft strategy update, is about $13 billion annually.

“Ocean litter is prevalent in California watersheds and ocean waters. For example, 78 percent of Southern California river miles and about one third of seafloors and seafloor sediments in the Southern California Bight contain trash,” the draft strategy update stated. “Plastic is the most prevalent type of debris found across all habitats in the Southern California Bight, with wrappers, bags, plastic pieces, and Styrofoam being the most commonly found plastic items, [with] 73 water bodies throughout the state of California … listed as having impaired water quality due to the presence of large amounts of trash.”

OPC, NOAA and California Sea Grant staffs hope the 2017 strategy update would help reduce sources of litter causing marine debris in the state’s waterways.

“Preventing waste in the first place through initiatives such as packaging redesign and reusing materials is a better method for reducing waste as it reduces the amount of litter to control, capture, and dispose,” the draft strategy update stated. “This method is considered by the U.S. EPA to be the most preferred method for dealing with waste.”

Areas of focus, according to authors of the 2017 strategy update, would include waste management and implementation of effective or controlled cleanup methods (i.e., beach cleanups, street sweeping, stormwater capture, etc.).

Additional information on the state’s progress in addressing marine debris can be obtained by contacting Miho Ligare at California Sea Grant; Ligare can be reached at 858-534-1160 or

Members of the 2017 strategy update team include Ligare, Nina Venuti (California Sea Grant), Eben Schwartz (California Coastal Commission), Sherry Lippiatt (NOAA Marine Debris Program), Holly Wyer (OPC) and Angela Howe (Surfrider Foundation).

Ocean Protection Council Twitter photo


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