Marine litter

Issue

An environmental issue

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Marine litter

Threats

The Marine Litter issue.

Marine litter is made up of discarded objects that do not occur naturally in the marine and coastal environment. Alarmingly, over the past 15 years the amount of marine litter washing up on UK beaches has almost doubled. Typical examples of marine litter include waste from beach users, sewage-related debris, medical waste, shipping debris and fishing waste.

Sources of marine litter*:

  • 40.4% from the public
  • 4.5% Sewage related Debris
  • 13.9% fishing litter
  • 0.7% fly tipping
  • 3.9% shipping
  • 0.2% medical waste
  • 36.3% non-sourced

(*MCS Beachwatch Survey 2012)

The vast majority of marine litter is plastic, which never truly breaks down. Experts suggest plastic left in the environment will be with us in some microscopic form many thousands of years.

When in the sea, plastics can also adsorb toxic chemicals, becoming increasingly harmful over time, and often entering the food chain when mistaken for food items by fish, seabirds, marine mammals and other organisms. Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds die every year from ingestion of and entanglement in marine litter.

Plastic debris can be found littering coastlines all across the world’s oceans, even on the most far-flung and inaccessible of beaches. Plastic is not biodegradable and will degrade slower in the marine environment than on land. A normal plastic bottle may persist for more than 450 years if left on a beach.

Beach users have to be wary of injury from broken glass, rusting metal or discarded medical waste. We should also be aware that the beach is likely to suffer from sewage discharges if sewage-related debris such as cotton bud sticks or tampon applicators are present. Marine litter strewn all over a beach can also have a detrimental effect on tourism with visitors put off from using it for recreation.

Marine Litter Facts & dangers

Coastal and environmental issues

Marine litter

Marine litter

Marine litter is thought to reduce the resilience of marine ecosystems and adds to other human impacts on the marine environment such as inappropriate development, sewage and agricultural pollution, climate change and ocean acidification (Derraik, 2002).

Fish & wildlife mortality rates

Fish & wildlife mortality rates

It is thought that marine litter causes a reduction in fish populations through higher mortality rates from wounds caused by litter, starvation due to blockages in the digestive tract, and impaired reproductive capacity due to toxins such as parabens. Micro-plastics in particular concentrate organic pollutants such as PCBs, enabling them to enter the food web and bio-accumulate (Thompson et al, 2004; Browne etc al, 2008)

Introduced species

Introduced species

Marine litter can also bring with it introduced species. Invasive non-native species have been shown to cause biodiversity loss and also changes to habitat structure and ecosystem function (Derraik 2002). They are in fact recognised as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity (Barnes & Milner 2005)

Quality of life & dangers to public

Quality of life & dangers to public

Marine litter can also dramatically affect quality of life, recreational opportunities and aesthetic value. The majority of beach users rank cleanliness as a priority in choosing their destination. A 2005 ENCAMS study showed that 97% of people avoided beaches with 10, or more, large litter items per metre. Beach litter including glass and metal can also cause injuries to those using the beach.

Plastic

Plastic

On average there are 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean.

Legislation

There is a single piece of European legislation, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which specifically requires EU Member States to monitor and tackle the growing marine litter crisis. An assessment of progress and improvements will be carried out in 2020, with Member States needing to achieve 'good environmental status'. SAS is increasingly using this driver to deliver action at all levels - European, UK government, industry and community.

Through the Protect Our Waves Petition, SAS is also calling for better legislation to ensure year-round action from beach managers to protect UK beaches from the dangerous accumulation of marine litter. SAS is planning to meet ministers to discuss this issue in Autumn 2013.

The international MARPOL Convention (Annex V) aims to prevent rubbish being dumped into the sea from ships and now completely prohibits of the disposal of plastics anywhere into the ocean. The convention contains various requirements & protocols for ships and harbour facilities in order to prevent and reduce marine litter.

In the North-East Atlantic, the OSPAR Convention brings together the European Commission along with Governments including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom to lead international cooperation on the protection of the marine environment. This includes the monitoring of marine litter.