ELLSWORTH — Legislation aimed at reducing plastic ocean debris, which was co-sponsored by Maine’s two U.S. senators, was signed into law this month.
The bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act was introduced in June to tackle the problem of plastic waste on a global scale by spurring innovation and international cooperation. The legislation builds on the Save Our Seas Act, which was signed into law in October 2018 and reauthorized NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
Save our Seas 2.0, among other provisions, establishes a Marine Debris Foundation and a prize competition to encourage fresh ideas on removing and preventing plastic waste. The law directs federal agencies to prioritize marine debris removal as well as to encourage and advise other nations on their efforts. It also improves domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new grants and studies of waste management and mitigation.
“Countless jobs in Maine and in coastal communities across our country rely on the health of the ocean. The Maine lobster, aquaculture and tourism industries are among the many critical sectors of our economy that are dependent on Maine’s pristine waters,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “I am pleased to see this legislation become law, which will help to accelerate the removal of plastic waste and prevent future marine debris, protecting this vital resource for generations to come.”
Roughly 8 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans each year. Ninety percent of this plastic enters the oceans from 10 rivers, eight of which are in Asia. The plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food chain and harm fish and wildlife and wash ashore on even the most isolated stretches of coastline. Plastic has been found in areas as remote as the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean.
In a study published this past summer, scientists at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences reported their findings that microplastic fiber pollution affects larval lobsters at all stages of their development. According to the report published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, the tiny plastic fibers affect the animals’ feeding and respiration and could even kill some larvae.
The lead author of the report was Madelyn Woods, a recent Bigelow Laboratory intern and former researcher at the Shaw Institute in Blue Hill. In 2014, the Shaw Institute conducted a pilot study focused on microplastics in lobsters as well as in oysters, herring and mackerel and later, a study on ingestion of microplastics by mussels.
“Even relatively low levels of plastics can be harmful for the animals that encounter them, and where an animal lives in the water column can amplify the problem,” said David Fields, another study author and a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory. “A lobster larva that eats a plastic fiber is just like us eating a candy wrapper — it’s not great, but it will probably just pass through. But if all you’re eating is candy wrappers, it’s certainly going to have other repercussions for your health.”
“Maine’s waters and Maine’s well-being are inextricably linked — meaning any threat to our oceans is also a threat to the livelihood of Maine people,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). “By enacting this bipartisan legislation into law, we are building on our vital work to protect our oceans and allow future generations to access its widespread economic potential and its unparalleled beauty.”