Marine Pollution: Ocean Dumping


Marine Pollution 
Marine Pollution Prevention Act International
Land-Based Sources
and Activities Protocol
Ocean Dumping


ALBATROSS IV transiting the Cape Cod Ship Canal

Photo 73: Seastar and echonoderms among ocean garbage.
(NOAA Photo Library.)

Until the 1970s, communities worldwide used the ocean as a dumping ground for wastes generated on land. This practice changed, however, as the harmful impacts of unregulated disposal became better understood. Today, the deliberate disposal of waste or other matter into the ocean is governed internationally by the 1972 London Convention and 1996 London Protocol. The United States regulates such disposal through the Marine, Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, which also implements the London Convention

London Convention and London Protocol

The London Convention and London Protocol establish the global rules and standards for preventing, reducing, and controlling pollution of the marine environment by dumping. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC), directs states to adopt laws and regulations on ocean dumping that are no less effective than the global rules and standards, that is, the London Convention and Protocol. Additionally, under Article 192 of LOSC, countries have a general obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.

The United States ratified the London Convention in 1975 and implements the Convention’s requirements through the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act.

The London Protocol resulted from a comprehensive review of the London Convention undertaken in the early 1990s by Contracting Parties to the Convention. The London Protocol implements a precautionary approach that prohibits all dumping except those wastes or other matter described in Annex 1 of the Protocol. The London Protocol entered into force internationally in 2006. The United States participated extensively in the Protocol’s development and signed the Protocol on March 31, 1998. The Protocol was submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification on September 4, 2007. Subsequently, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported the Protocol with one understanding and two declarations, and as set forth in a report dated September 11, 2008, recommended the full Senate give its consent to ratification. That has yet to happen. The Bush Administration submitted proposed implementing legislation along with a section-by-section analysis in 2007. No action was taken on the proposed legislation during the 110th Congress.

The Parties to the London Convention and Protocol developed a number of guidance documents to support ocean dumping management. These resources include waste assessment guidance for Annex 1 wastes and other material, circulars detailing guidance and information requests, guidance on the placement of artificial reefs, and technical references related to ocean disposal and marine environmental quality. These resources are available through IMO’s London Convention and Protocol web page. Several of these documents are included below.

Additional information on the London Convention and Protocol

Ocean Dumping Management in the United States

U.S. regulation of ocean dumping occurs through Titles I and II of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), otherwise known as the "Ocean Dumping Act." Title I outlines the U.S. regulatory scheme for ocean dumping. Specifically, the MPRSA regulates (1) the transportation of material by any person from the United States and, for U.S. vessels, aircraft, or agencies, the transportation of material from outside the United States when, in either case, that transportation is for the purpose of dumping the material into ocean waters, and (2) the dumping of material transported by any person from a location outside the United States, if the dumping occurs in the U.S. territorial sea or contiguous zone. 33 U.S.C. §1401. Ocean waters are defined in the MPRSA as those waters of the open seas lying seaward of the base line from which the territorial sea is measured, as provided for in the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. 33 U.S.C. §1402. Additional information on the Title I regulatory program is available on EPA’s ocean dumping website.

Title II of the MPRSA charged the Secretary of Commerce—which obligation has been delegated to NOAA, with monitoring and researching ocean dumping activities, as well as conducting research on the possible long-term effects of pollution, overfishing, and man-induced changes in ocean ecosystems. 33 U.S.C. §§1441 et seq. Additional information on U.S. ocean dumping management:

Additional information on research and monitoring

Additional IMO resources

Waste Assessment Guidance