Senators Form Bipartisan Alliance to Address Marine Debris Crisis

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) today introduced S. 756, the bipartisan Save our Seas (SOS) Act to help address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s ocean shorelines and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) have also co-sponsored the bill.

“The global marine debris problem threatens treasured natural areas, endangers iconic wildlife species, and litters shorelines in Alaska and around the world,” said Senator Sullivan. “It is time for our government to hold accountable the countries responsible for the majority of the debris in our oceans. This bill encourages the Trump administration to forge alliances with these countries and to take a stand against the dangerous levels of debris in our oceans and make sure that they do not reach America’s coastlines. I am honored to work on a bipartisan basis in the Senate to provide NOAA with the necessary resources to clean our beaches and protect our coastlines for future generations.”

“Stopping the flow of garbage that fills our oceans and washes up on shorelines is a challenge that requires bipartisan and international cooperation,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m glad we can work across the aisle in Congress to help keep debris out of Narragansett Bay and off our beaches and protect the small businesses that rely on a clean and healthy Rhode Island coastline.  We have a long way to go, but this legislation is a start toward research, international efforts, and responsible trade policies that together will help us better care for the world’s oceans.”

“Marine debris threatens critical species and habitats, litters our shorelines, and hurts coastal businesses,” said Senator Booker. “Our bipartisan bill authorizes NOAA to continue and expand its work to address this serious problem, and I look forward to working with Senator Sullivan and our other colleagues to secure additional funding for this program.” 

“Marine debris is a global issue, but it also hits close to home for Alaskans – which is why I have continuously worked in the Senate to highlight the dangers and impacts of marine debris,” said Senator Murkowski. “With more coastline than the entire Lower 48 combined, massive amounts of debris washing up on our shores threatens our environment, the wildlife, and our livelihoods. Healthy oceans are vital to a healthy economy and all aspects of our lives in Alaska, and it is essential we address the growing issue of marine debris. This legislation takes important steps to provide the tools needed to tackle this growing problem.”

“Marine debris litters both our ocean coastlines and important inland waterways like the Great Lakes, which is a source of drinking water for 40 million people and a critical economic driver,” said Senator Peters. “Whether it’s research into the effects of certain types of debris or cleaning up abandoned vessels and ghost nets, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program helps preserve and protect the unique Great Lakes ecosystem. This bipartisan legislation will help strengthen research and international coordination to ensure that we can safeguard our coastlines and the industries that depend on them.” 

“I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and other actions to reduce marine debris,” said Senator Coons. “Marine debris harms our ocean and coastal ecosystems, threatens fisheries and marine life and reduces the quality of life for millions around the world. I am especially glad that this bill encourages a greater focus on international engagement to address this global problem, and research into more sustainable materials that could reduce marine debris by designing for degradability.”

“North Carolina is a state blessed with hundreds of miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and marines debris threatens our coastal communities and small businesses,” said Senator Tillis. “I am thankful to Senators Sullivan and Whitehouse for leading the bipartisan effort to provide the Executive Branch with additional tools to fight this problem.  If we do not give agencies like NOAA the abilities to fulfill their missions, we are wasting taxpayer dollars and missing opportunities to fix solvable issues.”


Intact marine debris from foreign countries travel great distances and pose problems for nations who are not responsible for the mismanagement of the source country’s solid waste.

This is particularly true in the United States and Alaska whose shorelines require the constant cleanup of foreign-sourced marine debris. It is estimated that there is more than 250,000 tons of debris floating on the oceans’ surface and 11,000 tons of debris enter the Great Lakes every year. A recent study published by the Marine Pollution Bulletin revealed that cleanup workers in Alaska collected 11 tons of debris on 50 total miles of beaches.

The Save our Seas (SOS) Act works to address three critical areas:

  • Allow the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response. The Governor of the affected state may request the NOAA Administrator make this declaration.
  • The bill would reauthorize NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022. Its mission is to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encourages the Executive Branch – led by the U.S. State Department – to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, examining the causes of ocean debris, effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and the economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis.