Litter is found in all the world's oceans and seas, even in remote areas far from human contact and obvious sources of the problem. The continuous growth in the amount of solid waste thrown away, and the very slow rate of degradation of most items, are together leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea, on the sea floor and coastal shores. Over 6.4 million tonnes of it are estimated to reach our oceans each year. It is an economic, environmental, human health and aesthetic problem posing a complex and multi-dimensional challenge.
Marine litter results from human behaviour, whether accidental or intentional. The greatest sources of it are land-based activities, including: wastes released from dumpsites near the coast or river banks; the littering of beaches; tourism and recreational use of the coasts; fishing industry activities; and ship-breaking yards. Storm-related events – like floods - flush the resulting wastes out to sea where they sink to the bottom or are carried on coastal eddies and ocean currents. The major sea-based sources include: abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear; shipping activities; and legal and illegal dumping.
All this can cause serious economic losses. Among the most seriously affected are coastal communities (increased expenditure on beach cleaning, public health and waste disposal), tourism (loss of income and bad publicity), shipping (costs associated with fouled propellers, damaged engines, removing litter and managing waste in harbours), fishing (reduced and lost catch, damaged nets and other fishing gear, fouled propellers and contamination), and fish farming and coastal aquaculture. Marine litter can also lead to loss of biodiversity and of ecosystem functions and services. Causes are both cultural and multi-sectoral, resulting from poor practices in managing solid wastes, a lack of infrastructure, insufficient understanding among the public of the potential consequences of its actions, inadequate legal and enforcement systems and a shortage of financial resources.
UNEP Global Initiative on Marine Litter
In 2003, in response to this global challenge, UNEP's Regional Seas Programme and the Coordinating Office for the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), embarked on the 'Global Initiative on Marine Litter’. The initiative provides a platform for managing the problem through establishing partnerships and cooperative arrangements and coordinating joint activities. Its main partners include the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans (RSCAPs), government representatives, UN bodies, donor agencies, the private sector and NGOs at global, regional and national levels.
As part of the Global Initiative UNEP has supported and guided the development of twelve Regional Action Plans addressing the problem worldwide. Its 2009 report ‘Marine Litter: A Global Challenge’ was the first attempt ever to take a world-wide stock of marine litter levels across 12 different regions. Other publications focus on market-based instruments, monitoring guidelines and abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear - and are available at www.unep.org/marinelitter
The Fifth International Marine Debris Conference - A Unique Opportunity…
The Fifth International Marine Debris Conference (5IMDC) - held from March 20-25, 2011, in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA - is the first of its kind in over a decade. Organised by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States of America and UNEP, it recognises that marine debris is a trans-boundary issue which can only be managed through regional and global collaboration, and so is bringing together participants from around the globe who can have a major impact in creating and implementing strategies to address the problem.
The 5IMDC bought together 440 participants representing some 38 countries. Conference participants - researchers, natural resource managers, policymakers, industry representatives, and the non-governmental community - refined and endorsed by acclamation the Honolulu Commitment, which outlines 12 actions to reduce marine debris.
Participants and a group of rapporteurs also worked to revise the Honolulu Strategy, a framework strategy to prevent, reduce, and manage marine debris. The conference was co-organized by The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and UNEP and allowed sharing of strategies and best practices to assess, reduce and prevent the impacts of marine debris through workshops, field trips, technical and policy sessions, poster presentations, and panel discussions. http://www.5imdc.org/
The Honolulu Strategy - A Framework Strategy for the Prevention and Management of Marine Debris
One key outcome of the conference is the Honolulu Strategy, which will provide a framework for targeted activities that address the problem of marine debris and demonstrate measurable results. It will be a living document which can be evaluated and updated regularly to capture progress made and identify areas that need improvement. It was developed to support and strengthen existing efforts and catalyze new ones around the world and serves as a template for global efforts addressing the problem of marine debris. This framework is not designed to be implemented directly but to support and connect actions implemented in different country contexts and at a variety of geographic and governance scales. Its main aim is to provide a worldwide applicable tool that serves two main purposes:
- To describe and catalyze the multi-pronged and holistic response required to solve the problem of marine debris.
- To guide monitoring and evaluation of global progress on specific strategies at different levels of implementation, including local, country, regional, and international efforts and achievements.
What’s in the Honolulu Strategy?
The Honolulu Strategy serves as a global framework for a comprehensive and global effort to reduce the ecological, human health, and economic impacts of marine debris. It includes basic principles that can be used all over the world, regardless of specific conditions or challenges. The Honolulu Strategy provides a summary of the issues surrounding marine debris and a discussion about the targets of concern – coastal and marine species and habitats, economic health, human health and safety, and intrinsic social values. It has three goals focused on reducing threats of marine debris:
- Goal A: Reduced amount and impact of land-based litter and solid waste introduced into the marine environment.
- Goal B: Reduced amount and impact of solid waste, lost cargo, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned vessels introduced at sea.
- Goal C: Reduced amount and impact of accumulated marine debris on shorelines, in benthic habitats, and in pelagic waters.
A cohesive set of strategies and actions is defined to achieve each goal. The Honolulu Strategy is a framework document. It does not supplant or supersede the activities of national authorities, municipalities, industry, international organizations, or other stakeholders; rather, it provides a focal point for improved collaboration and coordination among the multitude of stakeholders across the globe concerned with marine debris. Its successful implementation will require participation and support on multiple levels – global, regional, national, and local – involving the full spectrum of civil society, government and intergovernmental organizations, and the private sector.