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Marine debris is a risk not only to the coastal and offshore environment, but also poses a hazard to navigation. As the lead federal regulator for the maritime industry, the Coast Guard actively partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and and other members of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Council (IMDCC) to ensure safe navigation and protect the marine environment.
Interagency Coordination for Marine Debris
NOAA is the lead agency for conducting research, monitoring, prevention, and reduction activities for marine debris. NOAA’s Marine Debris Program leads this effort and NOAA chairs the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee (IMDCC). The Coast Guard supports NOAA by participating as a member of the IMDCC.
The Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act of 2006 identifies the Coast Guard as an agency that NOAA should coordinate with to address marine debris issues. To date, the Coast Guard has been fully engaged with NOAA in support of marine debris monitoring and tracking in order to ensure safe navigation for shipping and to protect the marine environment. Coast Guard actions in support of NOAA depend on the type of the debris.
The Coast Guard, as the Federal On Scene Coordinator (FOSC) for the Coastal Zone, leads removal actions under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) for any debris that poses a potential oil or hazardous substance threat to the environment.
Additionally, the Coast Guard coordinates with USACE to ensure our waterways are free of any hazards to navigation. Upon report of an obstruction to navigation in U.S. navigable waters, the Coast Guard and USACE work together to develop a removal or mitigation strategy. If the hazard to navigation is within a federally maintained shipping channel, the USACE will typically take action to remove it. If the hazard to navigation is not within a federally maintained channel, the Coast Guard may, among other things, choose to mark the hazard with a buoy and broadcast warnings to mariners.
Critical to the Coast Guard’s decision making process is the exact nature of the risk posed by the object to safe navigation. USACE and Coast Guard decision-makers ensure close coordination with state and local authorities and, in some cases, those non-federal authorities may choose to remove the object. Coast Guard resources and personnel may also be requested by NOAA to help with identifying, tracking, and monitoring debris by conducting overflights, with NOAA representatives aboard. In addition, Coast Guard resources and personnel partner with NOAA to help with documentation of, and response to, marine animals entangled in marine debris (e.g., marine mammals and sea turtles).
The Coast Guard and NOAA actively work and plan together at all levels of both agencies. At the national level, the Coast Guard participates in interagency conference calls, hosted by NOAA, to provide strategic interagency coordination, awareness, and information sharing. At the regional and local level, operational commanders at the Areas and Districts are actively engaged with other federal, state, local, and tribal partners. Further, the Coast Guard coordinates outreach and education on marine debris prevention through its Sea Partners program and the Coast Guard Auxiliary and has partnered with NOAA through the IMDCC on outreach efforts on the prevention of waste (e.g., garbage and plastics) generated by recreational vessels.
Pollution Prevention Operations
While debris removal is an important part of safeguarding the environment and the MTS, the Coast Guard plays an important role in preventing marine debris from entering our waterways and oceans. The Coast Guard leads this effort through examinations of foreign vessels for compliance with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V. Coast Guard marine inspectors also verify that domestic vessels comply with the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ship (APPS), and the regulations associated with that U.S. law. The Coast Guard also plays a critical role in verifying that port facilities meet their legal requirements in accepting garbage and refuse from vessels calling on U.S. ports. This is a critical component in combating marine debris. Vessels must be able to offload their garbage when in port, so that they will not be tempted to dispose of it at sea.
The Coast Guard will continue to work closely with NOAA and through the IMDCC to address the potential impacts of marine debris and will respond to substantial pollution threats or hazards to navigation.