Challenges and Opportunities in monitoring the sources and pathways of Marine Debris in the Atlantic Ocean

Virtual event, 3 June, 11:30 – 13:30 UTC

The side event served to catalyse linkages, actions and coordination of stakeholders and scientists addressing the challenges of marine litter in countries across the Atlantic Ocean. Hosted by Dr Audrey Hasson, the GEO Blue Planet EU coordinator, this was an official side event at the All-Atlantic 2021 Conference, which took place from 2 – 4 June 2021.

The event enable a dialogue between Atlantic key partners to identify needs, issues and opportunities around the monitoring and mitigation of marine debris. It also served to establish essential collaborations between nations, international and regional initiatives, and scientists to jointly address this unprecedented challenge. The first session provided state-of-the-art presentation of the current knowledge on marine debris, its impact on marine life, health, and the economy as well as the unprecedented monitoring capabilities. In the second session, actors of solution strategies to marine debris demonstrated how knowledge provided by science benefits their activities. The third session was interactive, bringing stakeholders and the scientific community around the table to engage in collaboration and the design of services for targeted users.

Marine litter is defined as “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment”. From derelict fishing gear to cosmetic microbeads, its various forms and sizes are found from pole to pole near coastal shores to the depths of the oceansLarger pieces can accumulate on beaches or at the ocean floor but are also a threat to marine life through entanglement and shocking. Plastics of any size fragment into smaller pieces under various processes such as the influence of UV and mechanical stress. Microplastics are now widely distributed through the oceans and they can be vectors for pollutants and pathogens. The behaviour and impact of smaller size plastic pieces is under investigation. Most polymers manufactured today is likely to persist for decades and probably for centuries, if not millennial. 

In addition to polymers, additives such as flame retardants, and plasticizers are mixed into synthetic materials to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Some of these substances are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. In 2019, the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention adopted a set of actions for reducing the generation of plastic waste, improving its management, controlling its movement, reducing the risk from hazardous and raising public awareness, education, and information exchange. 

Marine litter is a multi-dimensional problem with economic, environmental, cultural, and human health costs. To address this issue, the United Nations created Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, “Life Below Water” and Target 14.1: “by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution”. To achieve this target, there is a need to identify marine litter and assess marine litter observation and detection methods to inform policy. A variety of international and regional instruments and approaches exist to protect biodiversity, manage hazardous chemicals and wastes, and monitor and prevent pollution of the marine environment from ocean-based and land-based sources of pollution. The cooperation among those initiatives and activities is key to effectively addressing this global environmental challenge. 

11:30 – 11:35

Welcome and workshop overview 5′ – Audrey Hasson (GEO Blue Planet/ EU4OceanObs)

11:35 – 12:05 UTC 

1) Scientific knowledge and challenges

  • Societal impacts of marine litter – Dr. José C. Ferreira (FCT NOVA – NOVA University & MARE, Portugal) 
  • Monitoring and forecasting of marine litter – Dr. Lauren Biermann (PML/IOCCG Marine Litter task force, UK)
  • Coastal urbanisation growth & marine litter future challenges – Dr Hans-Peter Plag (IEEE, USA)

5′ break

12:10 – 12:40 UTC

2) Towards informed policy-making

  • Informed communication of marine litter – Anga Mbeyiya (African Marine Waste Network, South Africa)
  • Material and Environmental Sciences to Inform Regulation – Dr. Denise Mitrano (ETH Switzerland)
  • Observation driven policy making – Dr. Alexander Turra (UNESCO Chair on Ocean Sustainability)

10′ break

12:50 – 13:30 UTC

3) Building Opportunities with experts and stakeholders

Introduction – Dr. François Galgani (Ifremer, France)

Panel Discussion:

  • Dr. Lauren Biermann (PML/IOCCG Marine litter task force, UK) 
  • Denise Mitrano (ETH, Switzerland)
  • Dr. Alexander Turra (UNESCO Chair on Ocean Sustainability)
  • Heidi Savelli (UNEP Global Partnership on Marine Litter) 
  • Christopher Corbin (UNEP Cartagena Convention) 
  • Dr. Diagana (UNEP Abidjan Convention) 
  • Mareike Erfeling (OSPAR Convention, Rijkswaterstaat, Netherlands)
  • Michail Papadoyannakis (European Commission) 

107 attendees and 13 panel speakers participated in this event, coming from 33 countries across the globe. Participants included Policy makers, research communitiesacademic institution representatives, industry representatives, innovation clusters, and projects related to blue economy from countries around the Atlantic. 

  • GEO Blue Planet (A. Hasson (EU4OceanObs action coordinator) and S. Djavidnia) 
  • AIR Center (J. Moutinho) 
  • IEEE OES (R. Garello, H.P. Plag) 
  • Ifremer (F. Galgani) 
  • OceanPredict (E. Chassignet) 

Replay of the event