Tackling the global marine litter issue


cc2bbae1-0699-45b9-b86e-a03a23b28077The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Source: National Geographic

A recent article in the journalĀ Science estimated that around 8m tonnes of materials are dumped into the world’s oceans each year. There are predictions that this figure could double within the next 10 years. It was noted that around 4 – 12 million tonnes of plastic are dumped every year by coastal countries. Some 20 countries were responsible for 83% of the litter, with China being the first on the list.

Growth in marine has spawned the development of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka the Pacific trash vortex), that spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. It is comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the US states of Hawaii and California, and contains primarily plastics waste.

Marine litter causes devasting impacts, not only on marine life (e.g. turtles and fish swallowing ‘clear plastics’), but also on the livelihoods of those that depend on the oceans (including fishermen and those in the tourism sector). This is a therefore a particularly significant and pressing issue for small island developing states (SIDS). In addition, however, growing litter relates not only to our increased resource consumption and disposal lifestyles, but also to rising incidences of waste crime (particularly the global movement of waste).

Given the above, another recently published article in the journalĀ Marine Policy from the Ocean Conservancy (OC) and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), analysing the impact of 20 ocean waste items on sea-life is therefore timely. The study found that abandoned and lost fishing gear (e.g. nets, fishing line and buoys), posed the greatest overall threat to marine wildlife, primarily because of entanglement. Plastic bags which were the second most harmful item, as well as smaller items such as balloons were also problematic, as they are often confused for food. The article links to a report from Ocean Conservatory entitled Stemming the Tide that proposes strategies for reducing marine litter.

More studies of this kind are certainly welcomed, as they serve to provide an evidence base for the development and implementation of policies and practices to best manage an issue that has far reaching socio-economic and environmental implications.

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