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Published November 7, 2007 05:21 PM

Ocean Garbage Gets Attention From US

With 174 coastal national wildlife refuges – including those bordering the Great Lakes – the National Wildlife Refuge System faces significant challenges in managing marine debris – man-made objects that has been discarded or abandoned in the water and on the shorelines. The newly-launched federal Marine Debris Initiative, a national and international program that focuses on preventing, identifying and reducing the problem, presents a multifaceted approach.

The NOAA Web site, http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/about/welcome.html , is a first step in a program that not only brings together state and local authorities, the private sector and international partners, but also helps educate school children and others about their roles in solving the problem. The Refuge System includes about 30,000 coastal miles, 20 million coastal acres, seven million ocean acres with three million acres in coral reef ecosystems. The Refuge System also has 300,000 Congressionally-designated marine wilderness acres in 34 refuges.

Additionally the Refuge System is a co-trustee of the largest marine protected area in the world, the 88-million-acre Hawaiian Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, where it has had an active marine conservation presence since 1909.

The impact of marine debris is significant for the Refuge System. Entanglement by massive drift and trawl nets can kill animals. Seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and other fish and wildlife species suffer critical ingestion/digestion problems from marine debris, including Styrofoam fragments and suspended plastics that are washed off the land or dumped into the sea.

The scale of marine debris ranges from hundreds of tons of small plastics covering entire shoreline landscapes to large, abandoned vessels wrecked on Refuge System coasts and reefs. Refuge System field staff, volunteers and partners already worked vigorously to remove, quantify and contain marine debris. Projects range from beach cleanup by volunteer groups to multi-agency partnerships that collect hundreds of tons of submerged or shoreline debris. For almost two decades, volunteers on the Hawaiian Islands and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuges have collected and catalogued debris.

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