World Ocean Summit to Highlight Opportunities to Tackle Marine Debris

Bonn, 7 March 2018 - Representatives from business, civil society, academia and government will come together in Mexico for the World Ocean Summit, which is being held 7-9 March. The annual event is hosted by The Economist, and seeks to address topics related to oceans such as sustainable seafood, blue economy clusters, ocean governance and marine debris. International attention and cooperation for the control of marine debris is especially important in light of the UNEP/CMS/Resolution 12.20 on the ‘Management of Marine Debris’ which was passed by the CMS Conference of Parties at Manila in 2017.

Among the questions which the Summit aims to answer is how businesses can successfully preserve the ocean environment ‘while improving their profitability’.  The Summit also aims to conceptualize a plan to control plastic.

CMS currently lists approximately ninety-five migratory marine species under its Appendices, ranging from large cetaceans such as whales and dolphins to reptiles such as sea turtles. For these species, the ocean is their only natural habitat, and ensuring the safety and protection of that habitat is essential for their survival. Marine debris is one of the main threats to marine habitats. The severity of the threat was recognized by the CMS Conference of Parties through Resolution 12.20 which suggested ways in which Parties can manage the debris that is currently entering our oceans. The definition of “marine debris” under the Resolution includes ‘any anthropogenic, manufactured or processed solid material, irrespective of its size, present in the marine environment, including all materials discarded into the sea, on the shore, or brought indirectly to the sea by rivers, sewage, storm water or winds’.

In the context of the World Ocean Summit Resolution 12.20 is especially significant given its recognition of the role of ‘industry and Governments in establishing a circular economy that prevents waste and implementing actions that eliminate sources of marine debris’. The Resolution lists several preventative measures such as extended producer responsibility, the phasing-out of disposable plastics and microplastics and the imposition of levies or bans on single-use plastics. It also acknowledges ways by which industry actors can specifically play a crucial role in eliminating the threat of marine debris, such as adopting design based approaches that incorporate reusable packaging, efficient recycling and introducing methods of preventing the discharge of pre-production plastics that lead to marine pollution.

The Resolution was born out of concern about the prevalence of marine debris such as microplastics, and abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) which harms marine species facing the threat of extinction. A study by Baulch and Perry in 2014 found that 56 per cent of cetaceans studied showed the ingestion of debris, and ingestion rates of up to 31 per cent in some of the populations examined. In 2016, Unger et al. while investigating 22 stranded Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) along the North Sea shores found marine debris such as nets, ropes, car parts and packaging material inside the gastrointestinal tracts of 9 out of 22 whales.

The issue of marine debris has been raised not only by the CMS in its earlier COPs, but also by States at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, 2012 when they expressed their commitment to achieving ‘significant reductions in marine debris to prevent harm to the coastal and marine environment’ by 2025.

The CMS Secretariat welcomes the forthcoming discussions between the public and private sectors at the World Ocean Summit in Mexico, in light of the Resolution’s call for increasing partnership between governments and the private sector in order to implement market-based instruments and incentives to prevent marine debris.

Last updated on 08 March 2018

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