A Better World - Volume 6

[ ] 52 A Bet ter Wor ld Sailing towards a plastic-free ocean — action on SDG14 to increase understanding of ocean debris Holly Griffin, Associate Programme Officer, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC); Sanae Chiba, Senior Scientist, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) M arine plastic pollution is considered one of the most serious global environmental challenges, impacting marine life in every corner of the ocean. From surface waters to the deepest ocean trenches, and from polar extremes to tropical coral reefs, it is estimated that 45 million tonnes of plastic is currently circulating in the ocean. The estimated economic cost of marine ecosys- tem services lost due to marine plastic pollution reaches over US$ 1 trillion every year. Ambitious targets have been set to tackle this global problem. Target 14.1 of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 calls for coordinated efforts to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds” by 2025. Beyond SDG14, the issue of marine plastic pollution is also relevant for other global policy goals. For example, address- ing marine plastic pollution also contributes to good health and well-being (SDG3), clean water and sanitation (SDG6) and responsible consumption and production (SDG12). At the national scale, many countries have been urged to introduce policies and management plans to reduce the flow of plastic waste into the ocean. However, countries are facing two key challenges in tackling marine plastic pollution. The first is a lack of knowledge of marine plastics. Policies to address marine pollution should be designed based on scientifically robust evidence. However, there is currently limited information about the lifespan of marine plastic and, in particular, its transport, disintegration and accumulation processes in the ocean. A project run by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) sought to contribute to the knowledge base in order to support the design of effective management policies. The second problem is a lack of public engagement. While momentum is gathering at a national level to mitigate marine plastic pollution, there is still work to be done on increasing public engagement with the issue. Globally, there is a need to increase recognition among the general public of the impact of its behaviour on the ocean. People can feel disconnected from the marine environment, particularly if they do not live close to it, or interact with it on a regular basis. Education and communication can provide a way of overcoming this challenge, by exposing young people to the issues facing the ocean and empowering them to make environmentally and socially responsible decisions. Microplastics in the ocean Microplastics are non-biodegradable. In the ocean, they release chemical additives into water and attract waterborne toxins and bacteria that stick to their shiny surface and appear similar to food. These microplastics can then be eaten by the smallest marine organisms, leading to poisoning and blocked digestive tracts. Toxins then work their way up the food chain, where they can eventually be consumed by humans. Trawling for microplastics with a Neuston net, in sight of Mount Fuji Image: Holly Griffin