UNEP Report on Marine Litter
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Marine litter is any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discarded into the sea or rivers or on beaches; brought indirectly to the sea with rivers, sewage, storm water or winds; or accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather.
Marine litter originates from many sources and causes a wide spectrum of environmental, economic, safety, health and cultural impacts. The very slow rate of degradation of most marine litter items, mainly plastics, together with the continuously growing quantity of the litter and debris disposed, is leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea and on the shores.
Marine litter is a serious issue for coral reef organisms. Floating debris can cover reefs, blocking off sunlight that coral polyps need to survive. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them, causing blockage of their digestive tracts and eventual starvation. Lost or discarded fishing nets—called "ghost nets"—can snag on reefs and strangle thousands of fish, sea turtles and marine mammals.
Marine Litter: A Global Challenge is a recent report on marine litter, prepared under a collaborative partnership between the Ocean Conservancy and UNEP Regional Seas Programme. Based on twelve regional assessments, as well as data collected from many countries worldwide through the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Clean-up, the report outlines the environmental, economic, and social impacts and origins of marine litter, and offers potential strategies to mitigate this increasingly urgent concern.
Key Points from the Report:
- Marine litter is found in all oceans of the world, and is found even in remote regions far from obvious sources.
- There is a lack of coordinated or effective action being taken on marine litter at all levels—regional, national and international.
- The major land-based sources of marine litter include wastes from dumpsites located on the coast or banks of rivers; rivers and floodwaters; industrial outfalls; discharge from storm water drains; untreated municipal sewerage; littering of beaches and coastal picnic and recreation areas; tourism and recreational use of the coasts; fishing industry activities; ship-breaking yards; and natural storm-related events.
- The major sea-based sources of marine litter include shipping (merchant, public transport, pleasure, naval, and research vessels) and fishing (vessels, angling, and fish farming) activities; offshore mining and extraction (vessels, and oil and gas platforms); legal and illegal dumping at sea; abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear; and natural disasters.
- Marine litter in the study regions had a variety of detrimental impacts, including effects on economies, aesthetics, tourism, wildlife, habitat, and human health and safety.
- There are few policies or laws that address marine litter as a specific category of waste distinguished from the general solid waste stream.
- The issue of marine litter must be approached through better enforcement of laws and regulations, expanded outreach and educational campaigns, and the employment of strong economic instruments and incentives.
You can download a copy of the report from UNEP's Marine Litter Publications page »
To learn more about marine litter, visit UNEP's Regional Seas Programme Marine Litter page »