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By Manipadma Jena
It is estimated that some 13,000 plastic debris floats for every square kilometer of ocean and that 6.4 million tons of marine debris are discharged into it each year. Researchers and scientists predict a dire future for those vast expanses of water that are vital to the existence of our planet.
A conservative estimate by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) indicates that the economic damage of plastic in marine ecosystems amounts to 13,000 million dollars a year, according to a statement released on 1 this month.
The health of the seas and ocean ecosystems is the focus of the 12th Conference of the Parties (COP12) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which began in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang on the 6th of this month and will run until the 17th. .
Among the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed in the Japanese city of Nagoya in 2011, the preservation of marine biodiversity is one of the fundamental objectives. Target 11 points out the importance of identifying “protected areas” to preserve marine ecosystems, especially from the damaging effects of human activities. At the 16th global meeting of the UNEP Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, which took place in Athens from 29 September to 1 this month, there was almost unanimous consensus that marine debris poses a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development.
On that occasion, scientists and authorities from around the world met to design a new roadmap capable of slowing down the rapid degradation of oceans and seas and creating policies for sustainable use, as well as integrating them into the post-2015 development agenda.
The issue is among the highest priorities since the Earth Summit, as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Brazil in 2012, known as Rio + 20, is called.
Number 14, of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are being discussed to replace the Millennium Development Goals since the end of 2015, focuses on significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.
"We had no difficulty in promoting the explicit inclusion of that goal in the proposed SDGs," said Jacqueline Alder, Director of Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems in UNEP's Division of Environmental Policy Implementation.
"After all, the oceans are everyone's problem and we all generate garbage," he said in a dialogue with IPS.
"Organic waste is the main element of marine litter, accounting for between 40 and 80 percent of municipal litter in developing countries compared to 20 to 25 percent in rich countries," explained Tatjana Hema, an official from program for control of components and evaluation of contamination of the Mediterranean Plan of Action. But microplastics are among the most damaging pollutants flooding the seas.
The harmful substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles no more than five millimeters in diameter and up to one millimeter.
“Micro and nanoplastics were found to have passed into the micro-walls of the algae,” explained Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment through Land-Based Activities (GPA).
"But it is not yet known how it will affect the food chain of marine animals or human health when ingested through fish," he told IPS.
“The extent of the microplastic problem so far is speculative. We still have no notion of the extent to which this affects the oceans, "he added.
The ocean-related SDGs must meet four criteria: feasible, feasible, measurable and achievable. Unlike, for example, the reduction of ocean acidification (the sole cause of which is carbon dioxide) that easily meets all four criteria, the problem of marine debris is not so simple, in part because "what appears on the beach is not necessarily an indication of what is happening in the ocean, ”said Sweeney.
“Marine litter travels long distances, it becomes international. It is difficult to find its owner, ”he observed. Waste accumulates in eddies in the middle of the ocean, a phenomenon of water circulation that usually traps floating materials.
"The risk of not knowing the exact magnitude of marine debris is that we tend to think that it is too big to handle," said the GPA coordinator. But through awareness raising, a “boost” is generated and now it becomes a priority at different levels.
“Eliminating pollution from the oceans is a claim that we will not see in life, even if we stop throwing garbage into the sea, which we have not yet achieved. The cost is unthinkable. Most of the waste is out of reach. Besides, cleaning the surface of floating debris will take a long time ”, he stressed.
"Although there are different causes of marine pollution in each country, the common denominator is that we consume more and generate more garbage, and most of it is plastic," he said.
In addition to the lack of information and the high cost of cleaning up pollution, the means of implementation or financing of the ocean-related SDG targets represent an additional challenge for the regions.
In Greece, the crisis was made aware when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director of the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometers from Athens, told the press that he found a sewing machine at 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) deep in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation is most pressing in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, but they do not receive the attention they deserve," Sweeney said.
For the new era of development to be successful, we terrestrial beings must pay urgent attention to the sea and the ocean, crying out for help.
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida / Translated by Verónica Firme