This roundtable will explore ways the shipping sector can act to reduce and prevent plastic ending up in the oceans and options for supporting global initiatives. The discussion will cover strategies for educating seafarers and the wider shipping community on the causes and impacts of marine plastic in order to change the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude that seemingly pervades the industry. In conjunction, it will consider also practical steps to limit further pollution.
A broad mixture of key industry personnel will be invited to ensure the subject is addressed in a methodical and holistic fashion, taking on board scientific expertise, encouraging stakeholder participation, whilst keeping an eye on commercial realities. To maximise participation, the event is proposed for 5 December 2018 immediately prior to the International Conference on Plastics in the Marine Environment in Singapore.
The problem: Mounting evidence is highlighting the detrimental impacts of non-biodegradable marine plastics on the marine environment. Its spread across coasts, open water and the sea floor creates navigational hazards for shipping, operational and financial risks to fishing and aquaculture, harms marine wildlife through entanglement, choking and poisoning, and can even act to transport alien invasive species. If current trends continue the volume of plastic entering our oceans is set to quadruple globally by 2050, subsequently affecting distribution, size and bioavailability of plastics and making them harder to extract.
The causes: Historically, shipping was a major source of marine litter owing to the traditional practice of dumping waste at sea, discarding equipment and accidental loss of cargo. While the deliberate dumping of plastics from ships is now formally banned under regulations contained in MARPOL and the London Convention and Protocol, the EU estimates that ships still account for almost one-third of marine litter, most of which is plastic. It has been estimated that single use plastics together with abandoned fishing gear constitute 70% of all marine litter items.
Current policies and limitations: In particular, MARPOL Annex V is intended to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage discharged into the sea from ships. Crucially it applies not only to merchant tonnage but to fixed or floating platforms and non-commercial vessels like pleasure crafts and yachts too. Although over 150 countries are signatories to Annex V, it is optional, and violations are often left unpunished. Flag States and the shipping industry itself need to take a greater responsibility in collaborating with experts and regulators to ensure these measures accomplish what they are designed to. Going forward, the enforcement of MARPOL calls for stronger monitoring, control and surveillance systems to ensure effective compliance.
A global response: In considering shipping as a source of marine plastics regional patterns should be studied to target new initiatives; research into temporal trends, widespread geographical distribution and global cycle of plastic litter have implicated multiple regions and shipping routes suggesting links to various factors including marine activities, population density etc. However, there is still limited quantitative data for some regions, particularly in the Southern hemisphere and remote regions. A number of regional and national initiatives are already underway to address marine plastics. The European Commission, for example, is proposing wide-sweeping changes to the delivery of waste to ports intended to make vessel operators pay the total costs involved. Measures against single-use plastics and fishing gear, restrictions on micro-plastics intentionally used in products under REACH, and, measures against micro-plastics generated during the life cycle of products are all being examined. Could these measures be replicated and/or scaled-up to a global level? A worldwide response will be vital to produce meaningful results in tackling the growing ocean plastic crisis.
Towards a solution: As direct enforcement is likely to remain difficult, and cleaning up after the fact is largely still impractical, educational outreach programmes are arguably the most powerful tool at our disposal to promote positive changes in seafarer behaviours and practices. However, for this education to be effective, it must be targeted and sympathetic to its audience, which makes gathering information on seafarer attitudes and motives relating to plastic disposal imperative in their development.
We’re not approaching a crisis point over marine plastic pollution – we’ve already reached it. Here, we aim to outline a plan for regional research and develop a framework for new curriculums for seafarers to present to the shipping industry.
Further information can be found in the attached agenda