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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bush not supporting marine debris bill

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A U.S. Senate committee has unanimously approved a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Inouye to provide money to research and prevent the proliferation of marine debris, but the proposal does not appear to have the support of the Bush administration.

"There is no funding proposed for marine debris in the president's (fiscal year 2006) budget," said Andy Davis, a Democratic staff member for the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Davis said he expects Congress to put money into the federal budget for some marine debris work, but that it is too early in the appropriations process to know how much or how the administration will respond.

Inouye's bill would provide money for coastal states to fight marine debris both at the source and on the beaches. It identifies the debris as damaging to marine life and human health. The debris can include garbage that flows down streams to the ocean, discarded or lost fishing gear, lost cargo, and other trash.

"Marine debris has become a pervasive problem for coastal communities. It is a major cause of death to marine mammals, birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life, it threatens navigation safety, and it degrades important aquatic habitats, such as coral reefs and sea grass beds," said Inouye, D-Hawai'i.

Citizens and government officials are conducting regular and extensive beach and reef cleanups in the main Hawaiian Islands and the reefs and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"In Hawai'i, we are able to see the impacts of marine debris more clearly than most because of the convergence caused by the North Pacific Tropical High (weather pattern). Since 1996, a total of 484 tons of debris have been removed from coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which is also home to many endangered marine species," Inouye said.

The senator's Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act would establish a new program on marine debris within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, expand Coast Guard authority to enforce prohibitions on pollution from vessels, and set aside $15 million annually for the effort from 2006 to 2010.

Inouye introduced a similar measure last year, which passed the Senate but did not get House approval. Davis said there is interest this year in submitting a similar bill in the House Fisheries Subcommittee, but nothing has been introduced yet.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.