- 150 million tonnes of plastic is estimated to be in ocean surfaces
- China accounts for disposal of 30 per cent of plastic waste in oceans
- By 2030, UN attempts to reduce plastic waste dumping in the oceans by 25%
The blue and seemingly unending depths of oceans were once rich in marine life, creating the perfect ecological balance between the biodiversity in oceans and landmasses in the planet. On the occasion of World Oceans Day, however, we stare at the grim and grey picture of oceans which today have more plastic than marine life. At the first United Nations conference on oceans, held on June 5 2017, at New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the oceans faced threats like never before. He also spoke on the possibility of plastic garbage outweighing fishes by 2050 if nothing was done to stem the continuous dumping of toxic and non-toxic waste in oceans.
A World Economic Forum report titled, ‘The New Plastics Economy’ published in 2016 estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastic was in the ocean, dumped from all over the world. Of these, China, Indonesia, Phillipines, Thailand and Vietnam are the top 5 countries responsible for dumping plastic waste into oceans. India dumps 0.6 million metric tonnes of plastic annually into oceans, ranking it among the top 20 countries which dump plastic waste in oceans.
Plastics have been a bane for the oceans for years now, as since the mid-20th century, dumping of plastics in oceans have been a common practice. The non-biodegradable nature of plastics result in their accumulation at the surface of oceans. Exposure to sunlight results in degradation of plastics to molecular level, which is often consumed by marine life. This results in plastic entering the marine food chain, resulting in irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
The threat to marine life has culminated into millions of sea animals dying of suffocation due to consumption of plastic. At the World Ocean Summit 2017 held in Indonesia in February, it was estimated that more than 100,000 sea animals die every year due to dumping of plastic into oceans. Apart from causing tremendous damage to marine life, the loss of fishes also impacts ocean dependent livelihoods like fishing. The World Economic Forum estimates that in between 2004 and 2016, global losses incurred by the fishing industry amounted to at least $20 billion. This happened primarily due to the consistent lack of fish being procured from the oceans. Though climate change also played a significant role in this, marine experts have cited plastic disposal as one of the main reasons why the fish population has gone down significantly in the past one and a half decades.
The extensive damage to marine life caused by plastics is a difficult one to repair, and the UN has repeatedly requested all nations to come together to tackle the crisis. By 2030, the UN attempts to reduce plastic waste dumping in the oceans by at least 25 per cent. In the conference, the UN asked groups around the world to commit to reduction in plastic pollution in the ocean. So far, 730 groups around the world have committed to do their bit in reducing plastic pollution in the ocean. The UN has also asked for arranging awareness programmes related to oceans and marine life so that even casual dumping of waste is lessened. Nearly 178 countries will issue for a call for action, post the conference to address marine issues in utmost seriousness.
India has also committed itself to reduce disposal of plastics in oceans. India will participate in the global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter, plastics and other waste by 2022. The Clean Seas campaign, which was launched in February 2017 will see India conducting cleanup drives at some of its major and most polluted beaches. The cleaning up of Versova beach in Mumbai is a startling example of what could be done to eradicate the threat of plastics from our oceans. Other countries have also pledged to the Clean Seas initiative, which includes issuing regulations on waste disposal into oceans, regular monitoring of sea beaches and controlled production of plastic products.
While Indonesia has committed to cut down on its marine litter by 70 per cent by 2025, Uruguay will tax single use plastic bags and bottles from this year to discourage their usage. While the effects of these efforts will not be seen for a long time, but any steps taken now to reduce plastic pollution in oceans will definitely help in gradually reducing the threat that marine life faces in oceans today.