I was standing on a street, facing uphill, in downtown Halifax. Blowing by me on the sidewalk were tumbleweeds of litter, and it was going downhill towards the ocean.
Imagine if we had no waste management programs on land. No recycling, composting or garbage collection. We would be neck high in solid waste lickity spilt.
Now consider the ocean — litter is thrown overboard, released through sewage systems and is thrown in from the land.
Who is responsible for cleaning up the floating ocean dumps that are growing bigger?
We know of the negative impacts of oil, sewage, and chemical pollution — what are the impacts of giant ocean patches of floating pieces of plastic?
Marine debris is on the rise and it is not only an issue of looks. It can harm and kill marine life and decrease recreation and fishing livelihoods.
From the most recent United Nations Environmental Programs (UNEP) State of the Marine report, plastic litter kills more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles each year.
Debris can also transport invasive species, entangle divers, and release chemicals. Participants of the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up collected 160,914 kilograms of litter last year, including 74,276 plastic bags.
Canada is a signatory of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships often referred to as MARPOL (marine pollution). MARPOL ANNEX V relates to marine litter.
The MARPOL Annex V regulations forbid the dumping of plastics anywhere at sea. This is progress, though there have been issues of support for enforcement and ongoing monitoring.
Then there is the debris that comes from land. No one is accountable for this or the giant patches of debris swirling around the high seas. This currently is a large legal and moral loop hole.
We can change the tide by becoming aware and active.
Tomorrow is World Oceans Day. Details on events being held by organizations such as the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) and the International Ocean Institute of Canada can be found on their websites.
Contact groups like the Friends of McNabs Island and the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up plan to participate in beach sweeps. But there’s a real easy solution — don’t litter, whether you are on a boat or on land.
You can also join non-profits such as the Ecology Action Centre, which is working on marine policy and legislation, and Clean Nova Scotia, which has marina and boater education programs.
– Rochelle Owen is director of sustainability at Dalhousie University. She has worked in the environment and sustainability field for 19 years; firstname.lastname@example.org.