New International Co-operation to Tackle Marine Debris

Government representatives, major industries and leading marine researchers have come together to make a new set of commitments to tackle the widespread problem of debris in the world’s seas and oceans.  

Despite decades of efforts to prevent and reduce marine debris, such as discarded plastic, abandoned fishing nets and industrial waste, there is evidence that the problem continues to grow. A lack of co-ordination between global and regional programmes, deficiencies in the enforcement of existing regulations and unsustainable consumption and production patterns have aggravated the problem.

By bringing together experts from some 35 countries, governments, research bodies, corporations including the Coca-Cola Company, and trade associations such as Plastics Europe, the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference resulted in new commitments and partnerships to address the issue of marine debris at global, national and local levels.

A key outcome of the conference, which was co-organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and held in Honolulu, Hawaii from 20 to 25 March 2011, the Honolulu Commitmentmarks a new, cross-sectoral approach to help reduce the occurrence of marine debris, as well as the extensive damage it causes to marine habitats, the global economy, biodiversity and the risks posed to human health.

The Commitment encourages sharing of technical, legal and market-based solutions to reduce marine debris, improving local and regional understanding of the scale and impact of the problem and advocating the improvement of waste management worldwide.

“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 as nations prepare for Rio+20 in 2012,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a message to conference delegates. “The impact of marine debris today on flora and fauna in the oceans is one that we must now address with greater speed,” added Mr. Steiner

“However, one community or one country acting in isolation will not be the answer. We need to address marine debris collectively across national boundaries and with the private sector, which has a critical role to play both in reducing the kinds of wastes that can end up in the world’s oceans, and through research into new materials. It is by bringing all these players together that we can truly make a difference,” said Mr. Steiner.

The Commitment marks the first step in the development of a comprehensive global platform for the prevention, reduction and management of marine debris, to be known as the Honolulu Strategy.

This document – currently being developed by conference delegates, UNEP, NOAA and international marine debris experts – will aim to provide a strategic framework for co-ordinated action plans to prevent, reduce and manage sources of marine debris. The Strategy will be finalised following the conference.

"This conference comes at a critical time for our world” said Monica Medina, NOAA’s Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. “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."

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