Our Approach to Pollution from Marine Plastics

Plastic is a phenomenal invention of the early 20th century. It has revolutionised our way to live, build and consume. However its low cost and convenience have masked many collateral issues. We now face an accumulation of plastic debris of all sizes in every part, not just of the natural world, but including our bodies. Out global dependence on this material is so high and tightly integrated into every part of the production and consumption cycle that practical solutions to plastic externalities can seem intractable. Oddly, the world appears to have woken up to the issues around waste management and the need for a more circular economy, only relatively recently.

In the marine environment the ubiquity and abundance of marine plastic debris of all sizes is increasingly documented, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and the surface to the seabed floor and deep trenches. The impacts on marine life, through entangling and ingestion as well as transfer through the food chain, are also increasingly documented in scientific publications.

However, much more work is required to understand plastic source leakage, degradation processes, plastic particle behaviour, their transfer and pathway through the marine cycle into their final sinks. The impacts on and the interactions of plastic particles with different parts of the marine environment are also unclear, including how they act as a vector for contaminants and pathogens to marine organisms. 
The need is now urgent. The capacity of the ocean to absorb waste is finite, and the accumulation of different types of pollution is leading to increasingly rapid shifts in the ecological balance of different marine ecosystems. Some of these are irreversible. 

ACOPS Activities

  • ACOPS convened a House of Lords dialogue on marine litter in 2016 and ACOPS’ Chairman  wrote a letter to the UNGA Secretary-General concerning single-use marine plastics on World Ocean Day 2017 during the UN Oceans Conference.
  • ACOPS participates to the work of the 1972 London Convention on dumping at sea and its 1996 Protocol and interact with GESAMP in its work on marine litter and plastics. See http://www.gesamp.org/work/groups/40  .
  • ACOPS also participates to the work of the working groups of the IMO Marine Environment Committee (MEPC) on marine plastic litter. The work of this group resulted to, in October 2018, the adoption by the MEPC 73 of the action plan to address marine plastic litter entering the oceans through ship based activities.  In May 2019, the 74th meeting of the MEPC (MEPC 74) and its working group on the topic continued their work and a correspondence group was established, to finalize a draft strategy to address marine plastic litter from ships, based on discussions during MEPC 74. The correspondence group will report to MEPC 75.

As part of our work to raise the general understanding of the impacts of marine litter including plastics and of the complex international and regional frameworks that are applicable, ACOPS supported the review carried out by a team of marine science and ocean law and policy researchers from the National University of Singapore of the status of research on marine plastics in Southeast Asia. The team included ACOPS Chair and CIL Senior Research Fellow Youna Lyons, Theresa Linting and Mei Lin Neo from St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory and the Tropical Marine Science Institute. This work was completed with financial support from the UK Science and Innovation Network at the British High Commission in Singapore.

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