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Dr. Mary Donohue

The National Academies of Sciences selects Dr. Mary J. Donohue to assess U.S. ocean plastic pollution


October 27, 2020

(Honolulu, HI) – Dr. Mary J. Donohue was selected by The National Academies of Sciences to serve on The Committee on United States Contributions to Global Ocean Plastic Waste. She was one of only nine experts appointed nationwide to serve on this prestigious committee.

The Committee is undertaking an 18-month study to assess and document the magnitude of the problem. It will evaluate the different types and prevalence of the debris; assess the amount that is imported to and exported from the U.S.; determine the value of a national marine debris tracking and monitoring system; and recommend potential ways to substantially reduce the plastic waste that is generated.

Plastic waste poses a triple threat to living organisms and the environment: the physical material itself, the chemicals associated with it, and disease causing microorganisms that hitchhike on it. The longevity of plastic waste and its fragmentation results in impacts on multiple scales, from whales entangled in derelict fishing gear to tissue and cellular interactions with the tiniest nanoplastics.

Dr. Donohue, who currently serves as specialist faculty with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (Hawai‘i Sea Grant), has been studying the devastating impacts of plastic pollution on marine mammals and coral reefs for over 20 years. She began her research career on remote oceanic islands in Alaska where she observed firsthand the problem of marine debris and derelict fishing gear on both mammals and birds. This experience led her to move to Hawai‘i to serve as chief scientist on the first systematic at-sea expeditions to document, study, and remove marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

More recently, Dr. Donohue has focused on activities toward achieving sustainable communities through understanding and mitigating pollution in water resources. In addition to her role at Hawai‘i Sea Grant, she serves as affiliate graduate faculty at Oregon State University.

The first meeting of this Committee will be held online on October 26, 28, and 30. While some sessions are open to committee members only, the meeting on October 28th will include a public session that is scheduled to be held from 11:00am – 2:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. During this meeting, representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Congressional staff, and stakeholders will discuss their expectations for the study followed by a question and answer session with the panelists and committee members. For more information and to register, please visit the United States Contributions to Global Ocean Plastic Waste, Meeting 1