As the world battles adverse effects of climate change, marine pollution is a rising challenge, with the coastline and aquatic life being endangered. According to reports, there are more than 15 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, which is over 80 per cent of plastic pieces globally. This incidence calls for strategic efforts from national governments, corporate organisations and individuals to curb marine pollution and save the ocean. Ugo Aliogo, Efuwape Mary and Kudman Mercy write
Cause for Concern
Man’s survival is currently under serious threat due to increasing environmental challenges facing the globe. These challenges have posed serious dangers to man and marine wildlife.
Environmental conservation experts have stated that huge deposits of human waste from land-filled sources float into the ocean daily. The implication of this action is that it will make the ocean an unsafe abode for marine wildlife.
In the midst of this crisis, the United Nations has not been silent. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) recently observed that up to 80 per cent of all litter in the oceans are made up of plastic pieces. The fear expressed by the UNEP is that with the rate of waste going into the ocean such as plastic bottles, bags, cups and straws after a single use, by 2050 there would be more plastic in the oceans than fish species.
The UN, alongside other stakeholders, has been making frantic efforts to address the challenge through enlightenment programmes, and holding governments of nations to task on the need to support the campaign to save marine wildlife.
In its bid to raise the bar, the UN recently organised the Ocean conference in June, New York this year. The forum, attended by scientists and representatives of government and civil society, was convened to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which is aimed at conserving and sustaining the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
At the conference, countries made commitments to reduce marine litter, as part of the UNEP’s Clean Seas Campaign (CSC), while more than one million participants signed a petition to phase out single-use plastic worldwide within the next five years, as part of the Avaaz campaign.
The CSC was launched by the UN Environment agency in February 2017 to increase awareness on the need to reduce marine litter by targeting the production, consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic. More than 20 countries are now participating in the campaign, which calls on governments, industries and individuals to end single-use plastic and eliminate micro-plastics in cosmetics by 2022.
At the conference, Sweden announced it would join the CSC and introduce a number of actions to tackle marine litter, including waste management technologies, a national collection system, a deposit-refund system for PET bottles, and raise awareness on the negative impact of plastic bags. Sweden is also expected to introduce a ban on micro-plastics in cosmetic products.
Sweden will also provide SEK 9 million to support the CSC as well as SEK 5 million to support UNEP’s efforts to tackle pollution from land-based sources. The agency’s Executive Director Erik Solheim said Sweden’s support will help intensify their work and translate the science into global awareness and concrete action.
Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog, announced an additional SEK 2 million in funding for the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management (S2S Platform) to strengthen work on knowledge exchange and other efforts on land-based marine pollution. The S2S Platform is a multi-stakeholder initiative that promotes collaboration among experts to improve the management of water linkages from land through to the ocean.
Furthermore, Indonesia has committed to reduce its marine litter by 70 per cent, and Kenya intends to introduce a plastic bag ban in September 2017. Other countries that have announced commitments to the campaign include Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Norway, Panama, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay. Nigeria is yet to follow suit.
The UNEP has estimated that 15 per cent of marine litter floats on the seas’ surfaces, 15 per cent remains in the water column, and 70 per cent rests on the seabeds. A study revealed that 5.25 million plastic particles, weighing 268,940 tonnes in total, are currently floating in the world’s oceans.
With the increasing rise of marine pollution, the MacArthur Foundation in a study noted that the world is producing 20 times more plastics than 40 years ago. The negative effect is that yearly more than eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, causing damage to marine wildlife, fisheries, tourism and marine ecosystem.
The study further revealed that only less than 14 per cent of all plastic pieces are recyclable and there is need to set up through technological mechanism to deal with the remaining 86 per cent which could create $80 to $120 billion in revenues.
According to reports, over 80 per cent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities, including plastic bags, water bottles, cups, cans and other debris which enter the ocean through deliberate dumping or run-off through rivers and drains.
In support of the save the ocean campaign, the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Peter Thomson, has urged world leaders to assemble the solutions required to overcome the challenges facing the coastal lands.
Thomson’s argument is that marine pollution is taking the world to a critical point where by 2050, there will be more plastic pieces in the ocean than fish; therefore, there is an urgent need to look at the effects of climate change on the ocean to properly understand what is facing the world.
He said, “We have to have better rubbish collection systems. We have to do what Rwanda has done which is to ban plastic bags. We have to stay true to the Paris Climate Agreement. But beyond that, we can set up marine protected areas where we can sustainably manage our fish stocks. We have to stop illegal and harmful fishing practices such as bottom dredging. We have to end those ridiculous fish subsidies and use that money to restore coastal ecosystem.
“Microplastics, which are bits of plastics inserted into things such as toothpaste, face creams and other cosmetics, constitute a big problem. We have to stop industrial use of microplastics because they get ingested into the biosphere. Their implications are far reaching.
“We have unleashed a plague of plastic upon the ocean that is defiling nature in many tragic ways. Illegal and destructive fishing practices, along with harmful fisheries subsidies, are driving our fish-stocks to tipping points of collapse. The greenhouse gases of accumulated carbon-combusting human activity are not only driving climate change, they are causing rising sea levels through ocean warming, while is threatening life in the oceans through acidification and deoxygenation.”
Illegal fishing, which is allegedly mostly perpetrated by foreign fishing fleets, is another threat facing the coastline. The argument from experts is that if it is not checked, it would disrupt the ecosystem and damage biodiversity. According to a report, around 37 types of fish are on the growing lists of species becoming extinct in Africa, including octopus and grouper.
This is a bad indicator for the continent’s coastline. On his part, Thomson appealed for a stop to the ‘crazy subsidies’ given by industrialised countries to fishing fleets, calling for renewed efforts to identify the species under threat and agree to only fish to quota or stop fishing those species.
In Kenyan production, sales and use of plastic bags now attract imprisonment of four years or fines of $40,000. This has been adjudged by experts in marine conservation as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution. With this legislation in place, Kenya has joined more than 40 other countries that have banned or taxed single use of plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy. It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.
The campaign to save the ocean doesn’t appear to be receiving encouraging support in Nigeria, especially through awareness campaigns from government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
However, some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are playing different roles in the campaign to save the ocean. The Mental and Environmental Development, a group passionate about cleaning the environment especially the coastal areas through active community participation, is playing its part to support the campaign.
The NGO was founded by Miss Doyinsola Ogunye, who is passionate about the cleanliness of the environment and the preservation of aquatic life. She also founded the Kids Beach Garden dedicated to teaching children about their environment and their role in giving back.
To put the issue of marine pollution in proper perspective, Ogunye argued that the major cause of ocean pollution is littering. She hinged her argument on the premises that Nigerians have negative habits of littering the environment indiscriminately, with wastes which flows into drainage channels when it rains and ends in the ocean. These wastes, she maintained, are consumed by fishes.
Ogunye’s worry is that if indiscriminate dumping of refuse is not checked, the present generation is preparing disaster for children yet unborn; therefore there is a need for something imperative to be done.
She called on governments at all levels, CSOs and NGOs to start sensitising people on the need to stop littering the ocean because of the adverse effect on aquatic life and the society. Nigeria’s coastline debouches into the Atlantic Ocean.
She noted: “The way we have conveyed many plastic in last 20 years, I don’t think it is going to stop, instead it is going to get worse. The best option is that government should actually levy these plastics production companies and put some kind of restrictions on those who use plastics, and eventually place ban on its usage in Lagos State and Nigeria.
“We are evolving as a people and we might do a lot of things that will be a great disservice to the next generation. On the path of the federal government, they should start advocating for other kinds of packaging apart from plastics. In cleaning the ocean, I suggest that Nigeria adopt the examples Kenya and Singapore. Kenya as a country has done remarkably well in managing environmental waste and marine pollution.”
Nigeria’s main problem in governance has been the implementation of her various laws, international instruments, agreements and conventions. However, with the current negative trends in global climate change, the nation would do well to emulate best practices like Kenya and Sweden, to preserve the environment and secure the coastline and oceans.