Senate Passes Sullivan’s Save Our Seas Act

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate last week unanimously passed the Save Our Seas (SOS) Act, legislation introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to address the global marine debris crisis. The bill would boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to ocean waste, and allow the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize additional funds to states, like Alaska, for cleanup and response efforts.

“Over the course of years and decades, marine debris deposited in the ocean half a world away inevitably finds its way to our coastal communities and ecosystems. Alaska feels the brunt of this crisis with its extensive coastline,” said Senator Sullivan. “I’m heartened that Senators from coastal and landlocked states alike – from both parties – have come together to support the Save Our Seas Act, which is now one step closer to becoming law. I encourage my colleagues in the House to move swiftly, so that we can reauthorize NOAA’s vital Marine Debris Program and enact other measures to clean up Alaska’s waters and protect our marine environment.”

“Plastic garbage and other junk crowding our oceans and shores is more than an eyesore.  It’s a threat to vital ocean and coastal ecosystems and our economy,” said Senator Whitehouse, a Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus.  “This bill tackles the marine debris crisis along American coasts.  It will also push us to work with other countries on limiting the plastics and other harmful materials that find their way to the ocean.  That includes working on an international agreement to stop the flow of trash from land into the ocean, and, if trash does get to the ocean, supporting research into new materials that break down in a way that won’t wreak havoc in our seas.  Thank you to Senators Sullivan, Booker, and all the bipartisan cosponsors for helping to see this bill through.”

Every year, roughly eight million metric tons of mismanaged waste from land enters the oceans. The waste then breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food web and harm fish and wildlife, and wash ashore on even the most remote beaches. A recent study published by the Marine Pollution Bulletin revealed that cleanup workers in Alaska collected 11 tons of debris on 50 total miles of beaches.

The Save Our Seas Act will help confront the marine debris crisis by:

  • Allowing the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response. The Governor of the affected state may request the NOAA Administrator make this declaration.
  • Reauthorizing NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY 2022.  Its mission is to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encouraging the Executive Branch – led by the U.S. State Department – to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into ocean biodegradable plastics, examine the causes of ocean debris, develop effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and quantify the economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis.

The SOS Act now goes to the House for consideration, where the House Oceans Caucus Co-Chairs have introduced companion language.


  • May 2016 – Senator Sullivan chaired a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife on the marine debris crisis.
  • December 2016 – The Senate passed the Marine Debris Act Amendments, introduced by Senators Sullivan and Booker.
  • January 2017 – Senator Sullivan was named chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.
  • March 2017 – Senators Sullivan, Whitehouse and Booker introduced the Save Our Seas Act, legislation that was cosponsored by 19 of their Senate colleagues.
  • April 2017 – The Save Our Seas Act was advanced from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
  • July 27 – Senator Sullivan chaired a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard regarding the global marine debris crisis.

# # #