So what can UNEP do about marine litter?

National University of Singapore (NUS)’s Bachelor of Environmental Science (BES) programme had a talk yesterday, which Gladys and I crashed. It was arranged by Prof Chou Loke Meng, who invited his friend Dr. Ellik Adler to talk to the NUS BES students. Dr Adler is the United National Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Regional Seas Programme Coordinator, and he came down to give a talk entitled “Marine litter – a Global Problem”

I live-tweeted the talk, but haven’t gotten round to figuring how to use Storify yet (a site that Gladys introduced to me), so here are my tweets below, a short extract of what went on during the talk. I will figure out how to use Storify later, and include Gladys’ tweets inside as well.

[update 17 Feb] Gladys is super fast and had already Storify-ed the tweets! Guess I’ll have to wait for another time to figure out how to use Storify. However, due to my great folly in using @marinetrashAdler instead of #marinetrashAdler halfway through the talk (><), not all my tweets are covered by Gladys’ Storify.

I’m attending Marine Litter – A Global Challenge by Dr Ellik Adler!
Dr Adler will be addressing the problem of marine trash itself, and then possible solutions (regional partnerships)
Global HQ for UNEP is in Nairobi, Africa, unlike the rest of the UN HQs. Dr Adler is fishing for new blood to join them!
Marine litter is a problem that the public is emotionally involved in, unlike oil spills and other marine problems
Marine litter is a multi-sectoral, trans-boundary global problem
Some developing countries w/o ways of treating wastes just dump their trash straight into the sea! D:
Research done in 1997 discovered that 6.4m tonnes/year of trash is dumped in the oceans!
Marine litter usually long-lived and active for decades and travels huge distances around the world
Marine litter is not just a problem for wildlife, but also for ships & vessels when plastic bags stall the engines
Derelict fishing gear makes up most marine litter in Asia-Pacific and is of great concern to coastal communities
Wow, most think Japan are rather clean and green, but lots of trash wash up on their Southern shores
Never thought about this before: marine trash is a platform for invasive species Supposedly from bordering countries, cos fishermen have no economic incentive to properly dispose of their fishing gear
Apart from mil$s spent cleaning up/rescuing stranded boats, there are also hidden costs of communities living among waste
D: 100m tons of plastics in the Mid-Pacific Trash Vortex! Swirling in the gyre, breaking down into microplastics
U of Hawaii developed a model to show how the Japanese Tsunami will cause trash from its coast to travel across Pacific
After all the problems and issues of marine litter, we now come to what UNEP is doing about it
Regional Seas as a regional implementation platform for global conventions, global programmes & global initiatives
Special focus on lost fishing gear, economic instruments for UNEP
UNEP has developed 12 regional Action plans to tackle the issue
They have a guideline on how to collect data on marine trash, making sure it’s globally accepted
Solution 1: Reduce debris entering marine env. by Re-design, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Recover
Solution 2: Cleaning and recovery trash from beaches through campaigns, law enforcement etc
Marine litter is not only an environmental problem, but also a cultural problem
Weak collaborations between countries and lack of funds cause poor implementation of action plan
Possible solution to solve problem – to make such trash economically valuable

The problems that he listed:

  1. Lack scientific data (despite international regional and national efforts, indications that marine litter is increasing)
  2. Lack of international legal instruments (except Annex V) or global programmes
  3. Deficiencies in implementation and enforcement of existing regulations
  4. Lack of awareness among main stakeholders and the general public
(I asked for a copy of his presentation, which I’ll upload here once I get it…)

Then, as Siva wanted to find out but was unable to attend the talk, I asked Dr Adler about how UNEP’s methodology for collecting data on trash compare with that of Ocean Conservancy‘s (OC), who started International Coastal Cleanup 25 years ago.  His reply was that OC’s method of data collection is not scientifically rigorous enough for scientists , as the different categories of garbage aren’t categorised properly (I think that’s what he was trying to say?), the sources of trash aren’t evaluated, the length of beach isn’t measured etc. It only gives an estimate, but they are doing good work. OC also doesnt take into account trash washing up throughout the year. Hence it’s not considered as real scientific monitoring to provide solid data.

I forgot what the other question was exactly, but I think this guy from BES asked about Singapore’s role in regional collaboration or something along those lines…

After the talk ended, Gladys and I weren’t satisfied with Dr Adler’s explanation of UNEP’s action plan, and so we went up to ask about what exactly was UNEP’s plan. So it turns out that although they came up with these Regional Action Plans, it seems as though it is mere talk and little action. Dr Adler stressed that there is little funding provided for them to be able to really carry out the action plan, and that it’s the onus of individual countries to read the Action Plan and implement it. Hopefully, with time, they’ll get enough funding to set up a global database where the raw data collected can go into.

Essentially, we concluded that as with most governments around the world, even international organisations can also be mostly talk and little action, usually due to funding (or some other reason). Tragic, but I guess as individuals we can all take action already, to practice the 3 Rs and do something useful like Clean up your beach! Nonetheless, glad that UNEP has placed considerable focus on marine trash! And well, at the start of the talk, Dr Adler was asking for “young people” to go join UNEP. Hmm…


About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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One Response to So what can UNEP do about marine litter?

  1. Pingback: So what can UNEP do about marine litter? | Marine Litter (3rd party news-agregator) |

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