Sen. Sullivan chairing marine debris hearing

Photo of volunteers removing debris from beach in Alaska.
In June of 2013 a group of educators, scientists, and artists removed 8,000 pounds of debris from Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Because there was no place to dispose of it locally, the debris had to be taken from beaches in Zodiac inflatable skiffs, and ultimately transported to Seward, Alaska, some 220 miles away.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, will convene a hearing on Thursday to explore the effects of marine debris and the efforts being made to clean it up in the oceans and Great Lakes. The hearing starts at 10 am, Eastern Time.

Sullivan’s subcommittee will explore solutions to the ever-increasing volumes of debris floating up on shorelines in the Pacific. Invited speakers include David Balton, deputy assistant secretary for Oceans and Fisheries, U.S. Department of State, and Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Alaska’s marine debris problem is compounded by its extensive remote coastline, which is longer than the rest of the United States’ coastline combined. The government estimates more than 250,000 tons of debris is floating on the oceans’ surface and 11,000 tons of debris enter the Great Lakes every year.

NOAA is addressing marine debris in Alaska with 20 projects and has removed about 450 tons of debris from shorelines, some of it tracing back to the tsunami resulting from the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011. The agency is also surveying the cleanup work to create baseline information to better track re-accumulated debris.

In March, Sen. Sullivan introduced Senate Bill 756, the  “Save Our Seas Act,” with bipartisan sponsorship from Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also co-sponsored the bill. Thursday’s hearing is in advance of the expected smooth sailing of the the SOS Act through the Senate.

The SOS Act:

  • Gives authority to 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 a declaration.
  • Reauthorizes NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022. 


A live video of the hearing will be available at