Inouye co-sponsors
shore cleanup measure

Two U.S. senators from Pacific Rim states introduced a bill yesterday that would fund the removal of the thousands of tons of ocean debris that wash up on U.S. shores each year.

Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the bill is supposed to protect marine ecosystems and human health from ocean-borne trash, namely discarded fishing gear, equipment abandoned by commercial fleets and cargo that has washed overboard.

The measure would authorize $50 million over five years for a debris prevention and removal program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and $25 million over five years to strengthen Coast Guard enforcement of laws banning ship-based pollution.

Discarded longline nets and fishing line are most responsible for damaging coral reefs and killing marine animals, including seals, dolphins, turtles and seabirds, according to Seba Sheavly, director for the International Coastal Cleanup.

About 40 percent to 60 percent of debris collected in more than 100 countries during the program's annual worldwide cleanup is abandoned fishing gear, Sheavly said in a telephone interview from Virginia.

"A lot of fishermen are very responsible, but some are not," Sheavly said. "Fishermen by their trade and their own ethics don't want to leave their nets and gear behind. But things happen, and there's not always disposal options for a damaged net out at sea or in port."

In Hawaii some of the recovered netting is processed by a recycling company and burned for electricity in a power plant on Oahu.

Isolation does not protect the largely uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from mounds of ocean waste. Pacific currents funnel thousands of tons of refuse and debris to the eroded volcanic islands and atolls.

The islands, which stretch 1,200 miles from the main Hawaiian islands, are home to countless endangered marine species.

When explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau headed to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2003, he found hundreds of tons of trash and thousands of dead seabirds.

Seabirds find floating bits of plastic and bring them back to feed their young. They can accumulate as much as 10 ounces of plastic in their stomachs before they die, Cousteau has said.

The larger debris, such as fishing gear, can trap endangered Hawaiian monk seals and threatened green sea turtles.

"In a high-tech era of radiation, carcinogenic chemicals and human-induced climate change, the problem of the trash produced by oceangoing vessels or litter swept out to sea must seem old-fashioned by comparison," Inouye said. "Regrettably, that perception is wrong."

The White House has shown no indication of funding marine debris removal in its 2006 budget, but the bill's supporters are confident the money will be made available.

"To cut the budget out now doesn't make sense, and all the parties know that," Sheavly said. "(The bill) is a good beginning. It's a very responsible step forward."

If passed, the measure would be the first to directly address marine debris since 1987, when the United States ratified an international treaty banning dumping from ships, Sheavly said.

Sen. Daniel Inouye

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