Friday, March 25, 2011

New International Effort To Tackle "Trash In Our Oceans"

Mar 25:  With vast amounts of marine litter posing multiple threats, from harming wildlife to damaging tourism to loading the human food chain with potentially cancer-causing toxins, a United Nations conference issued a call for concerted action against "an evil present in all the world's seas." In a commitment statement issued at the end of week-long meeting in Honolulu, experts from governments, research bodies, businesses and trade associations stressed the urgent need to improve global waste management, voicing concern at the growing presence of plastic debris among other rubbish discarded into the oceans, on shore, or brought indirectly to the sea by rivers, sewage, storm water or winds. The conference included delegates from some 35 countries, governments, scientific bodies, and corporations such as Coca-Cola Company and trade associations such as Plastics Europe.

    UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner, whose agency organized the meeting in cooperation with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said, "Marine debris -- trash in our oceans -- is a symptom of our throw-away society and our approach to how we use our natural resources. It affects every country and every ocean, and shows us in highly visible terms the urgency of shifting towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy."

    Monica Medina, NOAA's Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere said, "This conference comes at a critical time for our world. The oceans and coasts are facing a multitude of stressors, including marine debris, that lead to consequences that have both ecosystem and economic impacts. It is vitally important to bring together people committed to these issues to share ideas, develop partnerships and move us all a step closer to the changes that are badly needed for our oceans and coasts."

    The "Honolulu Commitment" issued at the end of the meeting, the 5th International Marine Debris Conference, calls on "international organizations, governments at national and sub-national levels, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citizens and other stakeholders" to halt and reverse the occurrence of marine debris by minimizing waste and turning it into a resource in an environmentally sustainable manner. Citing the harmful impact of marine debris, UNEP said some 270 species worldwide are affected by entanglement in or ingestion of the trash marine, including 86 per cent of all sea turtles species, 44 per cent of all seabird species and 43 per cent of all marine mammal species.

    Waste management is one of 10 economic sectors highlighted in UNEP's Green Economy Report launched last month, highlighting enormous opportunities for turning land-based waste, the major contributor to marine debris, into a more economically valuable resource [See WIMS 2/22/11]. The value of the waste-to-energy market, for example, was estimated at $20 billion in 2008 and is projected to grow by 30 per cent by 2014.

    Also, in a major report issued two years ago -- Marine Litter: A Global Challenge -- UNEP detailed the human actions, accidental or intentional, that are the sources of marine litter. Ocean-based sources include merchant shipping, cruise liners, fishing vessels and military as well as offshore oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs, and aquaculture. On land, the culprits include beaches, piers, harbors, marinas, docks and riverbanks, and municipal landfills located on the coast, as well as rivers, lakes and ponds that are used as illegal dump sites, discharges of untreated municipal sewage and storm water, industrial facilities, and medical waste.

    Access a release from the UN with links to more information and the Honolulu Commitment (click here). Access a more detailed release from UNEP with further links to related information (click here).

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