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In its first week in session, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to pass legislation that addresses the global marine debris crisis. The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act (S. 1982/H.R. 2969) was sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and would create a federal marine debris foundation, establish a “genius prize” to encourage development of solutions for pollution, and launch federal studies into marine debris.

Last year, Congress unanimously passed the Save Our Seas Act, which authorized the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program through 2022 at $10 million annually. According to the NMMA newsletter Currents, Save our Seas 2.0 builds upon the original version, improving the response to marine debris by incentivizing international engagement and strengthening domestic infrastructure to prevent debris.

Ocean debris is a global environmental crisis.

Ocean debris is a global environmental crisis.

According to the United Nations, 8 million metric tons of plastic bottles, straws, bags, fishing gear and abandoned vessels are dumped into the ocean annually. The debris harms coastal economies, endangers marine life, proliferates the spread of invasive species and creates hazardous conditions for boaters.

“Save Our Seas 2.0 is the most comprehensive marine-debris legislation ever to pass the U.S. Senate,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The Senate’s resounding support for our bill today is another sign that the federal government is ready to take serious steps to address a challenge that impacts our coastal communities, many of them in Alaska.”