WASHINGTON U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, launched a new bipartisan effort Tuesday, to combat marine debris led by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). 

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act seeks to help reduce the creation of plastic waste, find uses for the plastic waste that already exists to keep it from entering the oceans, and spur innovation; and tackles the problem on a global scale. The legislation builds on the initial progress made by the Save Our Seas Act, which was sponsored by Whitehouse and Sullivan and signed into law by President Trump last fall. The bill includes a section drafted by Murphy and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to establish a Genius Prize for the development of innovations that support advancements in packaging, materials, detection, and cleanup of marine debris.

“Long Island Sound is the most urbanized estuary in the country, so addressing plastic pollution at home is critical to decreasing plastic pollution around the globe. But we can’t stop there. This bipartisan bill goes a long way in protecting our oceans and coastlines through establishing international partnerships, rewarding innovative solutions for dealing with coastal debris, and improving domestic infrastructure,” said Murphy.

“Ocean plastic is a complex global issue, but it’s a challenge we can solve if the United States puts energy into leading on this and investing in creative solutions,” said Whitehouse, who cofounded the bipartisan Senate Oceans Caucus to find common ground in responding to issues facing the oceans and coasts. “The Senate has established a great bipartisan tradition of protecting the oceans.  I’m glad to once again partner with Senator Sullivan and our colleagues on legislation to help eliminate the plastic waste washing up on beaches and in fishing nets from Rhode Island to Alaska, and winding its way into the human food chain.”

“The prevalence of marine debris in our oceans is a chronic issue, one that threatens not only fisheries in my state of Alaska, but the health of the oceans and communities across the country, and across the globe,” said Sullivan. “The good news is that this is one environmental issue that is solvable, actionable, and measurable. SOS 2.0 will work to enhance our response here at home and across the globe. It will also work to prevent waste from getting into our oceans in the first place.  Once again working with my friend Senator Whitehouse, SOS 2.0 has the support of the private sector, environmental groups, and both the legislative and executive branches. With all of us pulling on the same oar, we have the opportunity to solve this global challenge together.”

“The Jersey Shore attracts millions of visitors each year and our coastal waters support everything from fishing and recreation to the flow of trade through our ports and harbors,” said Menendez. “There’s not a single person who wants to swim in plastic debris or catch fish that fed on microplastics.  As we grapple with the implications of plastic waste, most of which comes from overseas, we must exercise our global leadership. That’s why as Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I’m proud that Save Our Seas Act 2.0 includes a real focus on using our foreign policy and international cooperation to combat plastic pollution abroad.”

“Countless jobs in Maine and in coastal communities throughout 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 Collins. “To protect our ocean and the sea life that inhabits it, our bipartisan bill will help accelerate the removal of plastic waste and prevent future marine debris, protecting this vital resource for generations to come.”

“America has over 95,000 miles of shoreline, and Alaska makes up around 49,000 miles of it. With unprecedented amounts of debris washing up on our shores—impacting wildlife, our environment and the many Alaskans who depend on our ocean resources—there is understandably widespread concern, ” said Murkowski. “Building on my previous legislative efforts to keep our oceans clean and our coastal communities safe, I’m proud to join this legislation which will ensure a more robust U.S. response to the marine debris that is polluting our oceans and shorelines.”

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). 

Roughly eight million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans each year.  Ninety percent of this plastic enters the oceans from ten 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 remote stretches of coastline.  Plastic has been found in areas as remote as the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean.

A detailed summary of the legislation is available here