Water: Marine Debris
Prevention, Control, and Reduction: Vessel Waste
Vessels of all sizes can be sources of marine debris. Fishing vessels can be sources of fishing nets, lines, lures, rope, bait boxes, and light sticks. Recreational boats, military and other government vessels, cargo ships, cruise ships, ferries, and charter boats can be sources of galley waste, trash, plastic bags, and other materials. All of these materials can accidentally fall, blow, or wash off the vessels into the water and become marine debris. In some cases, trash and other objects are deliberately thrown overboard because there is limited storage space on board the vessels. Preventing items from going overboard and managing waste on vessels can reduce the amount of ship-generated marine debris.
Best management practices at sea and in port can prevent most deliberate or accidental loss of items overboard. At sea, best management practices can include securing and containing equipment, cargo, and waste. Another option is to reduce the amount of waste generated by reusing some items and choosing other items with less packaging to bring onboard. In port, providing waste infrastructure and reception facilities can encourage vessels to bring at sea waste back to shore for proper disposal and discourage dumping at sea. Of course, once back on land, this waste needs to be properly managed to ensure it does not become a land-based source of marine debris.
Several domestic laws regulate what materials can be disposed into a water body. These laws are intended to control the release of materials into the ocean.
What Can You Do?
There are many things you can do at sea to prevent marine debris, whether you are an occasional recreational boater or a professional mariner. Learn more on the What You Can Do At Sea page.
The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (PDF) (16 pp, 143K, About PDF) (APPS; 33 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.), which was amended by the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act (33 U.S.C. § 1914) of 1987, implements the provisions of Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), relating to garbage and plastics. APPS applies to all U.S. flagged ships anywhere in the world. APPS also pertains to all foreign flagged vessels while they operate in the navigable waters or exclusive economic zone of the United States or while they are at a port or terminal under the jurisdiction of the United States. APPS and its implementing regulations prohibit the discharge of all garbage within three miles of shore; certain types of garbage from 3-25 miles offshore; and plastic anywhere. Vessels are also required to record each discharge or incineration of garbage in a Garbage Record Book.
The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (PDF) (68 pp, 339K, About PDF) (MPRSA, 33 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq.), also called the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits (1) the transportation of any material from the United States for the purpose of disposal in ocean waters without a permit; (2) the transportation of any material by U.S. agencies or by U.S. flagged vessels or aircraft for the purpose of disposal in ocean waters without a permit; and (3) any person from dumping, without a permit, any material transported from a location outside the United States into the U.S. territorial seas or into the contiguous zone, to the extent it may affect the territorial seas or the territory of the United States.