JANUARY 9, 2013 -- On December 20, 2012, President Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the NOAA Marine Debris Program [PDF] and its mission to address the harmful impacts of marine debris on the United States. The program, which is housed within NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, was originally created in 2006 by the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act. "The NOAA Marine Debris Program is grateful for Congress’s support on this very important issue," said Nancy Wallace, the program's director. "We look forward to continuing our work to ensure the ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants are free from the impacts of marine debris." For the most part, the NOAA Marine Debris Program's mandates remain the same: to identify, determine sources of, assess, prevent, reduce, and remove debris, whether along a North Carolina beach or in Lake Michigan. This latest legislation, which was combined with the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act, also highlights education and outreach, regional coordination, and fishing gear research as key activities for the program. However, Congress gave the NOAA Marine Debris Program a new core function to address "severe marine debris events," defined as "atypically large amounts of marine debris" caused by natural disasters. After debris such as floating docks from the March 2011 Japan tsunami began washing up on West Coast beaches, Congress recognized this emerging need to deal with the unusual amounts and types of marine debris which often follow events such as tsunamis or hurricanes. Learn more about what to do if you think you have found marine debris from the Japan tsunami.