The efforts to keep the waters in and around Greater Newburyport clean are expanding. That's a welcome sign.
For a while now, local rivers and the waters off Salisbury Beach, Plum Island and southward to Ipswich Bay have been "no discharge" zones — areas where boats are prohibited from dumping waste overboard.
It's now been expanded southward, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently declared the waters off Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea and the harbor islands no-discharge zones.
There are an estimated 8,000 vessels plying Salem Sound, which can make for a lot of pollution, particularly during the summer months. Most boaters are conscientious about using marine pump-out facilities, but a recent Salem Sound Coastwatch survey found that 15 percent admitted to dumping their waste directly into the ocean. Anyone caught doing that now will be subject to a $2,000 fine.
Newburyport's efforts to control the dumping of waste were recently bolstered by a new "pumpout" boat — a boat that pumps the waste out of other boats and properly disposes of it.
While harbormasters and health departments are expected to be more aggressive in enforcing the no-discharge rules, the reality is that they can't possibly tell who's flushing and who's not. They need to be able to count on the cooperation of responsible boaters, who, in turn, need reliable access to pump-out facilities.
On the day the EPA designation was announced, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll revealed that the owner of the Salem Harbor Station power plant had donated $20,000 to the city to help with the purchase of a new pump-out boat. And Danvers Town Meeting recently appropriated $19,000 to help fund the purchase of a similar vessel for that town.
With plenty of pump-out facilities available both on the water and dockside, boaters have no excuse for not complying with the new rules. They should also keep in mind that even at today's prices, $2,000 — the cost of being caught in violation of those rules — buys a lot of fuel.
Too often, the sea is treated as a vast dumping ground, where a bit of pollution is thought no more harmful than a speck of sand on a beach. But it's clear that as our population expands, the impact on the ocean grows to enormous proportions. Oceans have become littering grounds for human waste, particularly discarded plastic. The problem has reached a point in the Pacific Ocean where dozens of miles are covered with plastic flotsam that doesn't decompose. Locally, you're almost as likely to find a piece of plastic on the beach as a piece of driftwood.
We need to treat the ocean with respect. No-discharge zones are one important piece of that effort.