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Environmental Protection

Environmental Protection

The marine environment is defined as those waters that are saline and tide-affected. Through the Marine Environmental Protection program, the Coast Guard develops and enforces regulations to avert the introduction of invasive species into the maritime environment, stop unauthorized ocean dumping, and prevent oil and chemical spills.


Oceans generate half of the oxygen people breathe. Living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the impact of changing climates. In addition, marine species provide important ecosystem services such as the provision of food, medicines, and livelihoods. Oceans also support tourism and recreational activities around the world. Because the oceans are the largest ecosystems on Earth, when combined they are the Earth's single largest life support system.

Pollution Control

Oil pollution is a significant problem when it comes to our waterways. Oil can destroy or limit the growth of marine life, ruin the habitat of wildlife that lives near the water, and contaminate drinking water supplies. Oil spills tend to be cumulative. Each time oil is spilled it tends to join with oil already in the water, increasing the problem. Discharge of Oil placards measuring at least 5”x 8” must be fixed in a conspicuous place on the boat.


The MARPOL treaty prohibits the discharge of plastics and other garbage such as paper, glass, metal, and food wastes. All U.S. vessels 26 feet and greater are required to place a MARPOL placard in a place where it can be read by passengers and crew. In addition, a written waste management plan is required on all U.S. vessels 40 feet and longer.

Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD)

In most inland and coastal waters, boats with installed toilets are required to have a sanitation system on board. A boat can be equipped with any type of MSD permitted under the regulations. However, whenever a boat equipped with a Type I or Type II MSD (these types discharge treated sewage) is operating in an area of water that has been declared a No Discharge Zone, the MSD must be secured to ensure it gets pumped out and cannot be discharged overboard. Type III MSDs have a holding tank that can only be emptied at a pump out station. A Porta Potty is not considered an installed toilet; however, it is subject to raw sewage disposal regulations which prohibit the disposal of raw sewage within the 3-mile limit.

Feature Image Credit: Zak Noyle/A-Frame

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