The California state government recently took great strides in the form of some proposed legislation that would help protect marine life and contribute to a cleaner ocean environment in general.

The California Senate Environmental Quality Committee passed two bills March 26th that are separate in their focus, but similar in their overall purpose.

Both billsí eventual objective is to protect the marine environment by limiting and modifying the actions of the commercial fishing industry as phasing out the use of certain types of plastic packaging.

Senate Bill (SB) 898 requires the state to recommend guidelines and programs for removal and disposal of derelict fishing gear, and create programs for marina and vessel operators to improve waste management in marinas and harbors.

Abandoned nets, lines, pots and traps can ìcontinue to ëcatchí marine animals, which become entangled or trapped and can damage the habitat upon which it becomes entangled or upon which it rests,î says The Seadoc Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating the public about derelict gear issue. ìThe gear can pose an underwater hazard for boaters, entangling boat propellers and anchors, and it can similarly endanger humans, especially divers.î

Since May last year, The Seadoc Society has retrieved nearly ten tons of gear from around the California Channel Islands (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Catalina).

The other bill, SB 899, would codify a provision of a February resolution, requiring a phase-out of the toxic materials in plastic packaging, including styrene (such as Styrofoam), by 2015.

ìOur oceans are in trouble and we need to take steps to reduce the amount of pollution,î said Dan Jacobson, legislative director of the advocacy organization Environment California.

ìOnce again the governor and the California Legislature are leaders when it comes to protecting the environment,î he continued. ìThe time to protect our oceans is right now.î

Both bills were spawned from a list of resolutions made by the Santa Monica-based environmental protection organization Heal the Bay.

ìIt is truly momentous that the [Ocean Protection] Council moved forward with such strong recommendations for action against marine debris,î Heal the Bay stated on its Web site, referring to a resolution by the Ocean Protection Council urging the state to take action to reduce marine debris. The five-member council oversees Californiaís ocean and coastal resources and sets the stateís overall ocean policy.

ì[We] congratulate the Ocean Protection Council for its bipartisan approach in protecting the stateís greatest natural resource and providing leadership by example for the Western continental coast region,î Heal the Bay continued. ìIn particular, we commend Lieutenant Governor John Garamendiís leadership on this issue.î

Heal the Bay asserts through its collection of research and data that marine debris kills an estimated one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and a vast array of other species of marine life annually. They cite recent studies indicating that there is six times more plastic in some parts of the ocean than there is zooplankton ó the base of life in the aquatic food chain.

In addition to the dramatic effect these materials are thought to have on marine life, it is presumed to be a human dilemma too.

The original data that Heal the Bay supplied that prompted the drafting of the bills stated: ìPlastic and other debris litters our beaches, and represents a threat to Californiaís $46 billion ocean-dependent, tourism-oriented economy and in certain circumstances may pose a public health threat.î

While most agree with the basis of the bills, the American Chemistry Council, which represents companies that produce a long line of plastic goods, has gone on record as saying that the bill isnít justified and doesnít speak realistically to the marine debris issue.

These two bills now move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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