UNEP/MAP is participating in the Third Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics (Bangkok, Thailand, 18-22 November 2019). Established in response to a resolution of the United Nations Environment Assembly on Marine Litter and Microplastics (UNEP/EA.3/Res.7), the Group includes experts with the relevant technical expertise from UNEP member States and representatives of international and regional conventions and organizations and relevant stakeholders. It is convened to further examine the barriers to and options for combating marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, especially land-based sources.
Microplastics refer to tiny plastic particles and to fragments emanating from the degradation of plastic material that cause harm to marine biodiversity and which pose a growing threat to human health.
Addressing marine litter and microplastics amounts to a global challenge that is acutely felt in the Mediterranean. Studies show that the Mediterranean Sea has become one of the most marine litter-affected basins in the world with the largest amounts of floating litter reaching 64 million items/km2.
Regardless of its size, marine litter refers to any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. It is estimated that 500 million items are lying on the Mediterranean seafloor with densities sometimes exceeding 100,000 items/km2. Plastics, which can be found floating or lying on beaches and on the sea floor make up to 83% of the land-based marine litter in the Mediterranean.
In his statement, Coordinator Gaetano Leone underscored the centrality of the theme of marine litter in UNEP/MAP work and highlighted progress being achieved at the institutional, regulatory and implementation levels.
In 2013 the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention adopted a Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean, in connection with the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol). The Plan, which became binding on 8 July 2014, notably includes obligations regarding — among other aspects — waste management, closure of illegal dumpsites, shifting to sustainable consumption and production, removal of existing marine litter using environmentally sound practices and clean-up campaigns. A review of progress achieved on the measures set forth in the Plan will take place during the 2020-2021 biennium.
As part of its efforts to underpin the implementation of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, UNEP/MAP has secured financial resources, notably for technical capacity-building at the national level. Harmonized Marine Litter indicators have been defined. Today, 19 National Action Plans are in place and 20 pilot projects are building a shared body of lessons learned and best practices, in addition to honing skills and tools pertaining to the prevention and removal of marine litter.
“The regional dimension is crucial for many reasons, including the integration of responses and approaches since our mandates cover all streams of marine and coastal ecosystems”, Mr. Leone observed. “We are working with a host of partners and institutions, including GFCM, the Joint Secretariat of the Basel-Rotterdam-Stockholm Conventions, the G7 and other global and regional mechanisms to turn the tide on Marine Litter”, he added.
The UNEP/MAP Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP), which was adopted by the Contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention in 2016, aims at providing a quantitative and integrated analysis of the state of the marine and coastal environment in the Mediterranean region, encompassing aspects related to marine litter, biodiversity, non-indigenous species and coastal zones. The programme is based on common regional indicators and on targets pertaining to Good Environmental Status (GES) in the Mediterranean region.