Marine Litter

Marine litter, is the result of human activities on land and at sea.  Marine litter can have a far-reaching and dramatic impact on the environment and on people’s health too. To confront this emerging issue, which generates growing public concern, and which is central to discussions around environmental protection, a series of concrete initiatives have been proposed. These initiatives taken up by national, regional and international actors  involve working together to alleviate and purposefully eradicate the worrying impact marine litter has on our daily life. REMPEC, as an acting organ under the framework of Barcelona Convention, committed to the mission of environmental protection, has been actively undertaking assignments addressing the issue of marine litter. the Centre has been coordinating the relevant activities assigned by the EU-funded “Marine Litter-MED” Project and the Cooperation Agreement between IMELS and UNEP, to explore ways to provide incentives for ship-generated waste to be discharged at ports rather than at sea, in particular by adopting the No-Special-Fee system for the use of port reception facilities, by means of carrying out Study, developing Guidance document and Operational Guidelines, implementing pilots and holding national meetings.

Marine litter exerts numerous harmful effects on marine life and biodiversity, as well as negatively impacts upon human health. Not surprisingly, marine litter negatively impacts other activities such as tourism, fisheries and shipping, and discarded material that have had the potential to be brought back into the economy through reuse or recycling is lost once littered. There are several different categories of marine litter, with plastics being the most challenging due to their low degradability and their likelihood of entering the human food chain.

Litter enters the marine environment via various means and from a number of different causes, including land-based and sea-based sources. The main land-based sources of marine litter include municipal landfills, river-based transportation of waste from landfills and urban areas or other sources along rivers and other waterways, also the discharge of untreated municipal sewage into the water, industrial facilities and tourism, particularly recreational visitors spending time at the coast/beach.

However, the primary ocean-based sources of marine litter are merchant ships, ferries and cruise liners, fishing vessels, particularly with regard to lost or abandoned fishing gear, military fleets and research vessels, pleasure craft, offshore oil and gas platforms, and aquaculture farms.

In the Mediterranean, although most of the marine litter originates from land-based sources (especially beach litter), ship sources contribute to the accumulation of floating debris and litter. Studies assessing floating debris, focusing on the Mediterranean seafloor, have suggested that litter accumulated in the Blanes canyon, including high proportions of plastics, has a predominantly coastal origin, while litter collected on the open slope, dominated by heavy litter, is mostly ship-originated, especially at sites under major shipping routes (Ramirez-Llodra, De Mol, Company, Coll, & Sardà, 2013). Commercial fishing is recognised as a sea-based source of litter, particularly derelict fishing gear (UNEP/MAP, 2015). For example, fishing (and aquaculture) activities are recongised as important sources of lost or discarded fishing gears and styrofoam (from styrofoam fish boxes) in the marine environment. A survey conducted in the Mediterranean region observed a high proportion of styrofoam in the Adriatic Sea, where around 10,000 fishing vessels operate (Suaria & Aliani, 2014).

To address the complex challenges posed by marine litter in the Mediterranean region, the Eighteenth Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (“the Barcelona Convention”) adopted Decision IG.21/7 related to the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean in the Framework of Article 15 of the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol) to the Barcelona Convention (UNEP(DEPI)/MED IG.21/9), which provides for the binding measures and timetables that are specifically designed to tackle problems arising from marine litter.

At the international level, IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in 2018 adopted the IMO Action Plan to address marine plastic litter from ships. The action plan serves to enhance existing regulations and to introduce new supportive measures in an effort to reduce marine plastic litter from ships. The MEPC agreed actions to be completed by 2025, relate to all ships, including fishing vessels. The action plan supports IMO’s commitment to meeting the targets set by the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) on the oceans.