Whitehouse, clean water advocates sound alarm on ocean pollution

U.S. Sheldon Whitehouse speaks about ocean pollution in Newport, Monday, April 23, 2018. (WJAR)

Clean water advocates are sounding the alarm when it comes to plastic pollution.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said it's a cause everyone needs to support. Studies show current pollution rates are at a point that within a few decades there might be more plastic per pound in the water than fish.

"The biggest thing globally is actually going after a handful of Asian countries that have horrible upland disposal," Whitehouse said.

A nonprofit organization called Clean Ocean Access brought together the senator and other clean water advocates Monday, the day after Earth Day, to promote ending plastic pollution.

"One of the things we're seeing, I went to some of my special places yesterday, is just trash everywhere. Litter, plastics, and a lot of that is coming from land," said Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, if nothing changes by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world's oceans per pound than fish, which could affect the economy in Southern New England in terms of tourism and commercial fishing.

"Perhaps a loss of confidence in whether fish, clams, filter feeders, are safe to eat," Whitehouse said.

Protecting the environment is one of Whitehouse's top priorities. He was featured on NBC Nightly News for giving more than 200 speeches on the Senate floor focusing on addressing climate change.

While he said that's an issue lawmakers can't seem to come together on, so far efforts to end plastic pollution have had bipartisan support.

"This has become not only a Rhode Island cleanup problem, but a really serious global problem," Whitehouse said.

Leaders of Save the Bay's Narragansett Bay beach cleanups said more than 150,000 pieces of trash were picked up along Rhode Island's shoreline last year.

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