Increase in Species Harmed by Marine Debris


Published Dec 9, 2016 10:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new United Nations report found that over 800 marine animal species are affected by marine debris ingestion or entanglement. 

The number species affected by marine debris has risen to 817 representing a 23 percent increase in the total number of species affected since 2012.

A major challenge is to ensure the wide-scale implementation of a range of land-based measures to prevent and reduce marine debris that will be able to match the projected increase in plastic production, states the report. A focus on up-stream innovations such as plastic alternatives and environmentally friendly design is important as effective waste management alone may not be able to cope with the scale of the problem.

The bulk of the new species records were for the ingestion of plastics, including micro-plastics, and entanglement in lost or abandoned fishing gear (known as ghost gear).

Cross-referencing these new records of affected animal species with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species indicates approximately 10 percent are near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered including large blue and sei whales.

Globally, 640,000 tons of fishing gear is left in the world’s oceans each year. Floating ghost gear is often difficult to retrieve and equally problematic to dispose of on shore. 

In Australia, the Tasman Sea south of Australia is a global hotspot for seabirds impacted by marine debris. CSIRO predicts that plastics ingestion in seabirds may reach 95 percent of all species by 2050, taking into account the steady increase of plastics production.

Turtles, whales, dolphins, dugongs and fish are also killed and maimed by marine debris. In the Gulf of Carpentaria north of Australia, the CSIRO estimates 5,000 to 15,000 turtles have been killed after becoming ensnared by derelict fishing nets, mostly originating from overseas.

Previously, the Australia Government had a national plan to protect Australian marine animals from debris, but it has lapsed.

World Animal Protection is calling on the Minster for the Environment to provide a national plan of measures to prevent the harmful impact of marine debris on Australian marine animals.

Ingrid Giskes, Global Head of Sea Change for World Animal Protection said: “With the eye-watering figure of pollution from marine debris placed at $13billion it’s clear that now is the time for a sea change. To combat this threat, World Animal Protection founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative in 2015.”

The Initiative – a multi-stakeholder alliance bringing together the private sector, the fishing industry, scientific researchers, government agencies and NGOs – aims to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals from harm and safeguard human health and livelihoods.

Ahead of the first global United Nations Oceans Conference in June 2017, World Animal Protection has also been working with U.N. Member States to highlight the urgent actions needed to address the global issue of ghost gear.

At this major event planned for World Oceans Day 2017, countries will be asked to commit to tangible steps that they will take to reduce marine litter of all kinds, including ghost gear, by 2025.

The U.N. report is available here.