Meeting tackles marine debris


By AUDREY McAVOY

Associated Press

HONOLULU — Government officials, beach cleanup activists and environmental experts have gathered in Honolulu this week to discuss how to deal with trash in the ocean.

The idea for the conference came from Hawaii fishermen who wanted to pick up floating debris generated by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, said Linda Paul, director of the Ocean Law and Policy Institute at Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based think tank.

The meeting will look at root causes and ultimate solutions, Paul said.

“I pick up trash on the beach, too, but it just keeps coming,” Paul said during a break in the discussions, which have attracted attendees from Japan, Alaska, Oregon, British Columbia, as well as Hawaii.

Pacific Forum, which is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, brings people together to talk freely off the record as a first step in forming policy. Paul said she hopes the Pacific Rim Marine Debris Conference will produce the beginnings of an international plan for addressing marine debris.

Topics of discussion include possible quick responses to a hypothetical tsunami originating along the Cascadia Fault, which is located off the coastlines of northern California, Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia. Panelists will also discuss micro-plastics, which are tiny bits that have broken down over time from larger pieces of plastic trash.

Chris Havel, a spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said he hopes to learn from others what solutions they’ve found.

“Marine debris is not a singular episodic problem. It’s an ongoing problem that our staff have noted is getting worse over the last 10 years, and they don’t know what to do about it,” Havel said. “They only know what’s in front of us there on the beach.”

The “very small silver lining” of the 2011 tsunami is that it has generated more awareness of marine debris, he said.

“We need to start stepping up the game a little bit now that the problem is hot,” he said.

 

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