Mepielan Ebulletin
Search

Mediterranean States Pave the Way for the Development of an Integrated Marine Litter Management Regime

Saturday, 20 December 2014
by Alexandros Kailis, Ph.D Candidate, Research and Organization Group, MEPIELAN Centre, Panteion University of Athens, Greece, f. Policy Officer in the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission
Mediterranean States Pave the Way for the Development of an Integrated Marine Litter Management Regime
1. Introduction

Marine litter, generated mostly from land and sea-based sources and activities, has become a rapidly increasing complex problem facing to date the world’s oceans and seas.[1] This is mainly due to the current unsustainable production and consumption patterns along with the ineffective and inadequate management and disposal of solid wastes which contribute significantly to the increased generation, accumulation and distribution of marine debris in the oceans and regional seas.[2] Pollution by marine litter is considered an alarming issue with various serious and multifaceted ecological, human health and safety, and economic implications. The most pertinent adverse effects of marine debris include the destruction and degradation of marine and coastal habitants and ecosystems (i.e marine species ingestion and entanglement problems), the chemical contamination of marine living resources and the whole food chain, the spread of invasive species, the reduction of economic benefits of coastal and marine activities (i.e tourism, commercial fisheries, aquaculture), and the increase of health hazards (i.e swimmers injuries, water contamination and beaches quality deterioration caused by fishing, medical and sanitary solid wastes).[3]

The management of marine litter has been recognized by the international community as a crucial issue to be addressed urgently and decisively worldwide. The growing concern of many countries and international organizations over the complexity and the widespread impacts of the problem of marine litter is increasingly being reflected in a number of important documents and initiatives developed, at global and regional level, for the purpose of promoting, amongst others, the sound management of marine debris. Particular cases in point are the outcome document “The Future we Want” of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20 Conference, Brazil, June 2012)[4], the Resolution on marine plastic debris and microplastics adopted in the context of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (Nairobi, 23-27 June 2014)[5], the Honolulu Strategy establishing a Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris (2011)[6], and the UNEP Global Marine Litter Initiative (2006)[7].

At the regional level, considerable efforts have been made by Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans to assess the problem of marine litter and manage it sustainably though the development and adoption of comprehensive programmes and measures. Of particular importance are the Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter adopted on 27 June 2014 by the OSPAR Commission along with measures to protect 16 vulnerable habitants and species, as well as the initiatives taken within the framework of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), through Ministerial Declarations, Recommendations, Workshops and Guidelines, for the development of a Regional Action Plan regulating marine litter matters. At the European Union level, the management of marine litter pollution is mainly addressed by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC, where achieving good environmental status also relates to the properties and quantities of marine litter that should no longer have harmful effects on coastal and marine environments by 2020.

2.  Understanding the Problem of Marine Litter in the Mediterranean

Pollution by marine litter in the Mediterranean has been an overarching problem with a wide spectrum of negative environmental and societal impacts resulting from multiple sources and cross-sectoral activities.[8] It is to be noted that marine litter found on Mediterranean beaches, sea surface and seabed includes various types of substances and material such as plastics, glass, paper, metals, polystyrene, cloth, rubber, fishing related wastes, munitions, wood, cigarettes, and sanitary or sewage related wastes.[9] These types of marine litter originate from diverse sources: shoreline and recreational activities, sea/waterway activities, smoking-related activities, dumping activities, and medical and personal hygiene. It is worth mentioning that 52% of the principal marine litter items-mainly plastics (bottles, bags, caps/lids etc.), aluminum (cans, pull tabs) and glass (bottles)[10] -result from shoreline and recreational practices and activities taking place in many Mediterranean countries, including food consumption, sport and festival activities associated mainly with tourism, inadequate and inefficient waste disposal and management services, and insufficient funding and public awareness. The remaining 40% originates from smokers and includes waste items such as cigarette filters and cigar tips, which constitute the primary marine litter in the Mediterranean, tobacco packaging and wrappers, 5% from sea and waterway activities, such as commercial and recreational fishing and offshore oil drilling, 2% from dumping activities, including dumping of household and construction materials, and 1% from medical and personal hygiene.[11] 

The release of marine litter in the Mediterranean poses multifarious threats to the marine environment and human health.[12] First and foremost, marine debris found at the surface and seabed of Mediterranean affects adversely its marine ecosystem in a variety of ways. They contribute significantly to the alteration of the marine habitat and the intensification of the marine wildlife species ingestion and entanglement problem.[13] Additionally, given the slow degradation process of marine litter in the environment, the concentration of varied marine litter items in the Mediterranean coastal environment increases the risk of generating secondary pollution from dangerous heavy metals embedded in solid wastes, such as zinc, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and cadmium.[14] In parallel, marine debris discharged on the Mediterranean beaches and into coastal waters have direct effects on human health and safety, including serious injuries made to people by sharp marine items and fishing nets, and disease transmission caused by contaminated sewage and medical wastes.[15]  

3. Towards the Adoption of an Integrated Approach to the Management of Marine litter in the Mediterranean

The Existing Legal Framework

In the Mediterranean basin, the issue of marine litter lies at the core of the environmental governance regime of the Mediterranean. In particular, the management of the marine and coastal pollution by marine debris in the Mediterranean is explicitly addressed by the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities adopted in 1996 (hereinafter referred to as the LBS Protocol). Marine litter is also generally addressed by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean adopted in 1995 (Art. 8 of the Barcelona Convention). Relevant to marine litter is also the Protocol for the Prevention and Elimination of Pollution in the Mediterranean Sea by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft or Incineration at Sea adopted in Barcelona on 10 June 1995, the Protocol on the Prevention of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal adopted in Izmir, Turkey on 1 October 1996, and the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) adopted in Madrid on 21 January 2008.[16]

Marine litter features prominently in the categories of land-based sources and activities derived substances listed under Annex I of the LBS Protocol to be eliminated by its Contracting Parties. The regulatory system of the LBS Protocol covering polluting substances and materials like marine litter is mainly based on Article 5 of the LBS Protocol which calls for the elaboration and implementation of national and regional actions and programmes, containing measures and timetables for their implementation, for eliminating pollution in the Mediterranean from land-based sources. Article 15 stipulates the procedure to be followed towards the adoption of such regional action plans and programmes.

The Mediterranean Strategic Framework for Marine Litter Management

With a view to setting a concrete policy framework addressing effectively and cooperatively the problem of marine litter in the Mediterranean, the 17th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols (Paris, France,) adopted in February 2012 the Decision IG 20/10 establishing the Strategic Framework for Marine Litter Management.[17]

The cardinal objective of this Strategic Framework, which its implementation should be coordinated and monitored by MEDPOL, is to ensure that marine and coastal litter do not adversely affect the coastal and marine environment and the impacts related to properties and quantities of marine litter in the marine and coastal environment are minimized, controlled and eliminated to the maximum extent practicable through regional and national activities.[18] For achieving effectively its cardinal objective, the Strategic Framework for Marine Litter Management sets out six specific objectives to be met progressively by the Contracting Parties through the development of explicit proposed activities at regional and national level, including:

(i) Enhancing the proper implementation of existing regional legislation dealing with municipal solid waste, as well as sea based solid waste, by building or further developing institutional and legal capacity in local and port authorities and other institutional stakeholders to manage marine litter within an integrated coastal zone management framework;
(ii) Reducing in view to eliminate marine litter generated “in situ (on beaches) with emphasis on plastic and smoking related marine litter;
(iii) Influencing environmental attitudes and behaviour of residents and tourists of coastal areas in the Mediterranean Region with regards to marine litter;
(iv) Establishing a monitoring programme for marine litter in the Mediterranean Sea based on the ecosystem approach;
(v) Assessing lost and abandoned fishing gear and formulate and implement counter measures against biological damage, and
(vi) Establishing synergies with on-going and planned initiatives in the Mediterranean Region as they relate to marine litter[19]

In essence, the Strategy provides a central starting point for promoting and encouraging the adoption and implementation of an integrated and holistic approach to the management of marine litter. This approach is well reflected in the fundamental concept envisaged in the Strategy, according to which «marine litter is a local, national as well as trans-boundary problem requiring specific measures at each level and across all levels; particular to the Mediterranean region is that due to the different levels of economic development amongst the countries a partnership approach is required. The management of marine litter is not a standalone activity, therefore its management must fall under an integrated approach to solid waste management both on land and at sea».[20] In parallel, the Strategy’s integrated approach to the environmental governance of marine litter in the Mediterranean is also enshrined in the various common legal, institutional and socio-economic management tools proposed to be used and the wide spectrum of public and private stakeholders to be involved in its implementation process.

The Mediterranean Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management

Recognizing the need for improving the marine and coastal environment of the Mediterranean and implementing effectively and efficiently the Strategic Framework for Marine Litter Management, the 18th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its LBS Protocol (Istanbul, Turkey) adopted in December 2013, on the basis of Art 5 and 15 of the LBS Protocol, the Decision IG.21/7 establishing a Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean.[21] Building on the application of an integrated and ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities in the Mediterranean region,[22] the Regional Plan, which became binding on 8 July 2014, lays down a number of priority measures to be taken by the Mediterranean States, at the national and regional levels, as a first step towards the prevention, reduction and sustainable management of marine litter in the Mediterranean.
 
«With this Regional Plan now entering into force, Mediterranean countries will be able to elaborate national policies and action plans on pollution control and prevention that will contribute to addressing one of the most difficult environmental issues in the Mediterranean Sea…The impacts of marine litter are not only environmental, but also economic, health-and safety-related, and cultural. The Regional Plan creates the momentum for Contracting Parties of the Barcelona Convention to look at marine and coastal pollution in an integrated manner» pointed out Gaetano Leone, Coordinator of the United Nations Environment Programme/Mediterranean Action Plan.

The Regional Plan revolves around four overarching and interrelated objectives. As it is stipulated in its Article 4, the Regional Plan aims to prevent and reduce to the minimum marine litter pollution and its multifarious impacts (i.e environmental, public health and safety effects), to control and remove marine litter using environmentally friendly methods, to reinforce the knowledge base on marine litter pollution, and to pursue the marine litter management in the Mediterranean according to international standards, measures and programmes developed in the context of other regional environmental regimes and organizations. Equally important, the Regional Plan articulate, in the same article, some fundamental principles upon which its implementation by the Contacting Parties should be based, including: (i) integrating the marine litter management in the solid waste management and other relevant strategies, (ii) preventing marine litter pollution by addressing marine litter generation at the source, (iii) applying, where appropriate, the precautionary and polluter-pays principles, (iv) implementing the ecosystem-based approach to achieve good environmental status, (v) advocating the public participation and stakeholder involvement, and (vi) promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

Based on the aforementioned objectives and principles, the Regional Plan sets out a wide range of priority measures to be implemented on the basis of an established work plan and within specific timelines.[23] In particular, it promotes the integration of marine litter related programmes and measures in the existing LBS National Actions Plans, the adoption of necessary national legislative and institutional frameworks for controlling marine litter generation, the development of a set of preventive measures aimed at reducing and combating marine litter pollution generated from land and sea-based sources and activities, and the undertaking of various actions concerning the removal of marine litter and its environmentally sound disposal.[24]  

Finally, for the purpose of achieving its key objectives and implementing effectively its priority measures, the Regional Plan provides also a set of detailed provisions regarding the assessment and monitoring of marine litter in the Mediterranean, the scientific and research cooperation on marine litter matters, the technical assistance, the increase of public awareness and education, the international and regional cooperation in tackling marine litter pollution, and the involvement of a number of major groups and stakeholders in marine litter management, including local and  national authorities, private sector and civil society.[25]   

Conclusion

Managing marine litter pollution in the Mediterranean in an effective and efficient way requires the adoption and implementation of an integrated and holistic approach. The Strategic Framework for Marine Litter Management (2012) and particularly the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management (2013) lay the foundation for the application of an all-encompassing approach to the management of a complex and rapidly increasing problem affecting adversely the marine and coastal environment of the Mediterranean, the marine litter pollution. However, in order to translate this integrated approach to marine litter management into tangible results, the Mediterranean States should continue working towards the achievement of substantial and meaningful progress in three directions. Enhancing the implementation of comprehensive measures and actions at all levels (local, national and regional), identifying and filling knowledge gaps regarding the multifarious impacts of marine litter pollution (i.e environmental, economic, social), and increasing public awareness on the sound management of marine litter as well as ensuring the active participation of various stakeholders in the implementation process of all the relevant measures and programmes.  


ENDNOTES:
  1. Marine debris or marine litter is defined to include any anthropogenic, manufactured, or processed solid material (regardless of size) discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the environment, including all materials discarded into the sea, on the shore, or brought indirectly to the sea by rivers, sewage, stormwater, waves, or winds. It includes, but is not limited to, plastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, textiles, timber and hazardous materials, such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste. See, UNEP/NOAA, The Honolulu Strategy: A Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris, 2011, p. 1.
  2. See, UNEP, UNEP Year Book, Plastic Debris in the Ocean, 2011, p. 21-22. UNEP/NOAA, The Honolulu Strategy: A Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris, 2011, p. 4.
  3. See, UNEP/NOAA, The Honolulu Strategy: A Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris, 2011, p. 4-11.
  4. In particular, para. 163 of the outcome document reads: the health of oceans and marine biodiversity are negatively affected by marine pollution, including marine debris, especially plastic, persistent organic pollutants, …from a number of marine and land-based sources…We commit to take action to reduce the incidence and impacts of such pollution on marine ecosystems, including through the effective implementation of relevant conventions and the adoption of coordinated strategies to this end. We further commit to take action to, by 2025, based on collected scientific data, achieve significant reductions in marine debris to prevent harm to the coastal and marine environment. See, UN General Assembly Resolution 66/288, The Future we Want, A/RES/66/288, 11 September 2012, available at:  http://www.uncsd2012.org/thefuturewewant.html
  5. See, UNEA: Resolutions and Decisions Adopted by the United Nation Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme at its First Session on 27 June 2014, Resolution 1/6 Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics, available at: http://www.unep.org/unea/UNEA_Resolutions.asp
  6. The Honolulu Strategy, adopted in the context of the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii during 20-25 March 2011, provides a results-oriented global framework of action with the overarching goal to reduce impacts of marine debris over the next 10 years. This goal will be achieved through the collective action of committed stakeholders at global, regional, country, local, and individual levels. The Honolulu Strategy is available at: http://5imdc.wordpress.com/
  7. The UNEP Global Marine Litter Initiative focuses on the development and implementation of regional activities in regions that are particularly affected by marine litter pollution, and the establishment of a global partnerships for co-operating and co-ordinating activities for the control and sustainable management of marine litter. More information about the UNEP Global Marine Litter Initiative is availableat: http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/initiatives/unepglobal/default.asp
  8. See, UNEP/WHO: Results of the Assessment of the Status of Marine Litter in the Mediterranean, UNEP(DEPI)/MED WG.334/Inf.5, 11 May 2009. UNEP/WHO: Assessment of the Status of Marine Litter in the Mediterranean, UNEP(DEPI)/MED WG.357/Inf.4, 12 April 2011.
  9. See, UNEP/WHO: Assessment of the Status of Marine Litter in the Mediterranean, (2011), op.,cit. p. 13.
  10. The main 12 marine litter items in the Mediterranean (2002-2006) include: cigarettes/cigarette filters, cigar tips, plastic bottles, plastic bags, aluminum beverage cans, caps/lids, beverages bottles, cups/plates/forks/knives/spoons,tobacco packaging/wrappers, food wrappers/containers, straws/stirrers, and pull tabs. For instance, as to the marine litter floating on the sea surface, plastics account for about 83.0% of marine litter items, while all other major categories (textiles, paper, metal and wood) account for about 17%. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., p. 21-32.
  12. At this point, it should be noted that according to the current assessments of the status of marine litter in the Mediterranean, most Mediterranean countries lack reliable and detailed information on the exact economic implications and costs posed by marine litter pollution to their coastal communities and economies. Ibid., p. 39.
  13. Ibid., p. 33-34.
  14. Ibid., p. 35-39.
  15. Ibid., p. 35.
  16. The LBS Protocol (1996), which was adopted in Syracuse, Italy on 7 March 1996 and entered into force on 11 May 2008, amended the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources adopted in Athens on 17 May 1980. All the above-mentioned Protocols are available at: http://www.unepmap.org/index.php?module=content2&catid=001001001
  17. See, UNEP/MAP: 17th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols, Paris (France), 8-10 February 2012, Decision IG.20/10: Adoption of the Strategic Framework for Marine Litter management, UNEP(DEPI)/MED IG 20/5,  p. 125-169.
  18. For the purpose this Strategic Framework, marine litter is a category of substance listed under the LBS Protocol defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Ibid., p. 132.
  19. Ibid., p.141-145-164.
  20. Ibid., p. 142.
  21. See, UNEP/MAP: 18th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols, Istanbul (Turkey), 3-6 December 2013, Decision IG.21/7: Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean in the Framework of Article 15 of the Land Based Sources Protocol, UNEP(DEPI)/MED IG.21/9, pp. 143-173.
  22. It is worth noting that the formulation process of the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management was influenced by the management approach followed and the objectives set out in the Decision IG.20/4 of the 17th Meeting of the Contracting Parties: Implementing MAP Ecosystem Approach Roadmap: Mediterranean Ecological and Operational Objectives, Indicators and Timetable for Implementing the Ecosystem Approach Roadmap
  23. See, Annex II of the Regional Plan.  
  24. See, Articles 7 to 10 of the Regional Plan.  
  25. See, Articles 13 to 18 of the Regional Plan.


MAILING LIST
Please subscribe to receive updates
Name: Email:
Code: