California to foster microplastics strategy and work on abandoned vessel removal

Two new laws would help maintain local waterways without plastic pollution or ditched boats.

SACRAMENTO — Ridding California’s waters of microplastics and abandoned commercial vessels were the themes of two bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, last month. Extra funds would be made available to allow the Ocean Protection Council to continue its efforts in fostering a statewide microplastics strategy. The State Lands Commission, meanwhile, would be directed to use federal or private funds to remove abandoned commercial vessels in the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta.


Senate Bill 1263

State Sen. Antony Portantino, D-Los Angeles, introduced Senate Bill 1263 (SB 1263) to benefit the Ocean Protection Council’s mission to address ocean conservation and protection. SB 1263 specifically directs the council to adopt and implement a Statewide Microplastics Strategy. The strategy would, in principle, foster partnerships and collaborations with various agencies and entities to address the presence of microplastics in the ocean.

The Ocean Protection Council would present its Statewide Microplastics Strategy to the state legislature by or before Dec. 31, 2021; the strategy would have to be implement by Dec. 31, 2024. Recommendations for policy changes or additional research must be submitted by or before Dec. 31, 2025.

“Ocean litter, also commonly referred to as “marine debris,” is a persistent and growing problem worldwide that significantly impacts the health and beauty of our oceans and beaches. It poses serious threats to marine wildlife, including sea birds, turtles, and mammals such as dolphins and whales, as well as human health and welfare,” a State Senate analysis of SB 1263 stated. “Once in the marine environment, litter is not just an eyesore, but can damage habitats, harm wildlife through entanglement and ingestion, and have negative economic impacts on coastal communities.”

The existence of microplastics in the water is a subset of the larger marine debris phenomenon. Policy analysts in Sacramento stated microplastics could be found in the seafood we consume.

“Microplastics consumed by marine organisms make their way into animals’ tissues and are beginning to show up in the fish that humans eat,” a State Senate legislative analysis on SB 1263 stated. “In a recent study by UC Davis and Hasunuddin University of Indonesia, researchers sampled fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia, Half Moon Bay, California, and Princeton, New Jersey. One-quarter of the fish sampled in all locations contained plastic.”

The new law would cast a wide net in how Ocean Protection Council should address microplastics.

“The components of the Statewide Microplastics Strategy vary and would range from topics such as standardizing methods for sampling, detecting, and characterizing microplastics to characterizing ambient concentrations of microplastics in the marine environment, and an investigation of those microplastics, to addressing microplastic impact on marine habitats and organisms, including humans, through pathways that impact the marine environment,” the most recent legislative analysis of SB 1263 stated.

“While some aspects of the strategy focus on the impact of microplastics and the impact they have on the health of our oceans, other aspects are geared towards microplastics and the impact they have on drinking water and other means of human consumption,” the legislative analysis continued.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Audubon California, Heal the Bay and Surfrider Foundation, among other organizations and agencies, formally supported SB 1263.

Assembly members approved SB 1263 by an 80-0 vote on Aug. 27; the bill also cleared the State Senate with a 39-0 vote on Aug. 28.


Assembly Bill 2441

California’s State Lands Commission has been vested with the power to manage tidelands and submerged lands. Included within that power is the commission’s ability to take, without notice, immediate action to remove abandoned vessels within its jurisdiction.

Assembly Bill 2441 (AB 2441) extended the commission’s responsibility to develop a plan to remove abandoned commercial vessels once it receives appropriated funds by the legislature. The new law specifically applies to abandoned commercial vessels in the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta.

“Over the last several years, the state has experienced an increase in the amount of watercraft being abandoned in state waterways. Boats are some of the most expensive luxury items to maintain and store, and unlike other luxury goods cannot be disposed of easily or cheaply,” the Assembly’s most recent legislative analysis of AB 2441 stated. “[A recent news report stated] some boat owners were selling vessels for as little as one-dollar to avoid the cost of removing their boats from California waterways and properly disposing of the vessel.”

Abandoned vessels – whether commercial or recreational – can be quite the navigational and environmental hazard.

“Abandoned boats, especially those that capsize and sink, can interfere with boating traffic and damage operational vessels attempting to navigate a waterway. More troublesome, abandoned boats that begin to deteriorate can leach toxic chemicals or fuel into state waterways,” the Assembly’s legislative analysis stated. “Contaminates in the Delta could have a significant impact to a large number of Californians’ drinking water and could set back Delta restoration goals. Removing these vessels is difficult, potentially dangerous, and expensive.”

The State Lands Commission must develop its plan to address the removal of abandoned commercial vessels by July 1, 2019, under this new law.

Brown signed AB 2441 on Sept. 19; the bill passed the State Senate on Aug. 28 (39-0 vote) and Assembly on Aug. 30 (79-0 vote).

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