A group of leading scientists and policymakers met in Athens (Greece) last week, as part of the three-day long 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans. The meeting marked the 40th anniversary of the Regional Seas Programme (RSP), hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Around 50 participants attended the meeting, representing 16 regional seas conventions and action plans, of UN organizations and intergovernmental organizations, and the media.
During the meeting, participants acknowledged that marine litter remained a “tremendous challenge” in almost all regions of the world, with significant socio-economic consequences and clear impacts on marine ecosystems.
The meeting was held amid growing concern about the threat that plastic waste poses to marine life.
Some facts about Marine litter:
- To date estimates of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stand at US$13 billion each year.
- Do you know how long it takes for litter to break down in the ocean?
- Paper bus and parking tickets: 2 – 4 weeks, orange and banana peel: up to 2 years, cigarette butts: 1 – 5 years, plastic bags: 10 – 20 years, foam cups and tin cans: 50 years, aluminum cans: at least 80 years, plastic bottles: 450 years, glass bottles: 1 million years;
- Six million tons of debris enters the world’s oceans every year, weighing about the same as a million elephants;
- 86 per cent of all marine turtles are affected by this marine debris, with one million seabirds killed by it every year.
About the Regional Seas Programme:
UNEP launched the RSP to address the accelerating degradation of the world’s seas and coastal areas and promote the sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment by engaging countries to implement specific actions to protect their shared marine resources. As the world’s only legal framework to address the protection of the marine environment at the regional level, the RSP is critical to reversing the rapidly accelerating degradation of the oceans.
This meeting therefore provided a unique opportunity to set in motion the integration of regional seas and oceans governance into the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- The presenters underscored the need for the SDGs to build on existing conventions and to define measurable targets. They described the role of RSCAPs in the post-2015 agenda as translating global targets into nationally appropriate actions;
- The experts recommend a three-tier approach to marine litter, saying that the problem needs to be tackled at the municipal level (in additional to the national level), because in most cases it is municipalities that have responsibility for solid-waste management;
- On the issue of micro plastics (tiny pieces of plastic less than one millimeter in size that pollute the world’s waterways and seas) the experts agreed that more work needed to be done so that their physical and biological impact could be fully understood;
- The experts also began work on mapping out a way forward for oceans governance over the next decade. The “visioning roadmap” covers these priority areas: extraction (living and non-living resources), pollution, governance, impacts of a changing climate, and ocean acidification;
- On climate change, participants stressed that the global interest in the issue should be seen as an opportunity. They highlighted opportunities for mainstreaming climate change into the ecosystem approach and integrated coastal zone management. Regional Seas have a mandate in the climate change agenda and see opportunities to: develop regional strategies on adaptation measures and strengthen the ecosystem based management (EBM) adaptation.
Efforts in the Dominican Republic:
Nina Lysenko, Ministry of Environment, Dominican Republic, stressed two key challenges for the Cartagena Convention (this is a comprehensive, umbrella agreement for the protection and development of the marine environment in the Wider Caribbean Region): uniting and building baseline data in a region with varying capacities to collect data; and the role that these databases play in building climate change adaptation, mitigation, and policy at the regional level.
She summarized a range of national activities in the Dominican Republic that have stemmed from the country’s involvement with the Cartagena Convention. She provided examples including: technical capacity development; integrating marine issues into sectoral policies and legislation as well as inter-sectoral planning; addressing the main threats to marine and coastal biodiversity; and activities that link marine and land-based issues such as improved land-use planning and ecosystem monitoring of mangroves.
Specific examples of activities and results included, inter alia:
- Support to and establishment of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean and development of protected area management plans in the Caribbean; regional partnerships such as the MedPartnership and the Caribbean Challenge Initiative;
- Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States and the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater economic valuation pilot projects;
For more information on the Global Meeting, please visit the official website for the conference available here
For a comprehensive report on the outcomes of the meeting please click here