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Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Environment
Rough Seas: A new Pew Oceans Commission report on the dire state of the world's oceans. 06.04.03
Being Green?: A look at the resignation of Christine Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. 05.21.03
Water Fight : A report on a fight over water in the Great Lakes 12.31.03
Oil Tanker Sinks: Experts discuss the threats this poses to Galicia's scenic coastline and rich fishing waters. 11.20.02
European Union Bans Single Hull Ships: Oil spill inspires new rules. 12.09.02
Cleaning Up After an Oil Spill: Tanker splits off coast of Spain. 11.27.02
Pollution Wiping Out Much of U.S. Marine Life, Study Says Posted: 06.11.03
Pollution, urban sprawl and over-fishing are depleting marine life in U.S. coastal waters, according to a report released this month by the Pew Oceans Commission.
"For centuries we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete," commission chief Leon Panetta, a former congressman and chief of staff to President Clinton, said. "We now know that this is not true."
How oceans are polluted
The largest threat to marine life, according to the report, stems from land runoff. Land runoff is a process in which contaminants, such as pesticides from farmland or chemicals from industrial areas, leak into the ground, flow into nearby rivers and streams and then wash into oceans.
Pollution from city streets and backyards also finds its way into coastal waters. Every eight months, more than 10 million gallons of oil from streets and driveways flows into U.S. oceans, the study says.
When toxic pollutants leak into the ocean they can damage the reproductive systems of fish.
For humans, polluted oceans can add up to contaminated seafood and fewer places to swim. More than 13,000 beaches were closed in 2001 because of pollution advisories.
The study cited urban sprawl -- or over-development of urban areas -- global warming, and over-fishing among its other areas of concern. About 50 percent of the U.S. population live within 50 miles of the coast, and widespread fishing methods such as bottom-scraping nets can damage marine habitats, the study says.
In the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, an area once abundant with fish species, lack of oxygen related to run-off pollution has created a "dead zone" the size of the state of Massachusetts, according to the report.
What the government can do
The commission's members recommended that Congress revise and strengthen pollution laws, including regulations that limit the amount of fish commercial fishermen can catch.
It also suggested that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, an office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, become independent and open up more field offices.
The government has also created a panel, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which will examine the state of the nation's oceans. The panel is expected to release its own report with recommendations later this summer.
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