New Maps Show Extent of Marine Litter

Posted on April 15th 2014
AN ocean conservation group led by scuba divers has created a new worldwide map to show the extent of marine litter poisoning the oceans.
 
Project AWARE'S interactive Dive Against Debris map provides the first-ever attempt to visualise the waste divers have removed from the very spots they like to explore on both an international and individual site level.
 
Released on This Earth Day, the map makes disappointing viewing. Almost 400,000 pieces of trash have been collected by volunteers since 2011, a trawl dominated by plastics. Two-thirds of waste (261,742 items) was found to be plastic. Divers have also found cars, a makeshift toilet, a full set of golf clubs, a set of false teeth and also a pogo stick. It would be funny, if marine litter wasn't so deadly to wildlife.
 
The same divers also reported more than 700 entangled or dead marine animals, including marine mammals, birds, fish and crustaceans. At the end of last year, divers in Indonesia rescued five white tip reef sharks pups found entangled in discarded fishing net. A number of others had already drowned.
 
Ana Budziak, Associate Director, Science & Policy for Project AWARE said: "Divers are helping add to the map and contribute an underwater view to a problem that is mostly invisible to the public. the sad reality of marine debris is that it's responsible for killing and injuring thousands of marine animals and birds every year."
 
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. The map features 1,112 Dive Against Debris surveys from only 60 countries worldwide. Yet, it is estimated by scientists that around 250 billion pieces of plastic are swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.
 
In Britain alone, levels of litter recorded last year on beaches were at their highest level in two decades, with 2,390 items of rubbish found for every kilometre of coastline surveyed and cleaned by volunteers from Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
 
"This is a disgusting tide of litter which is threatening the safety of beach visitors both human and animal,” said Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Officer.
 
"It’s coming in from the sea, being blown from the land or simply being dumped and dropped. After 20 years of campaigning it’s disheartening that in 2013 we are seeing worse litter levels than ever.
The impact of the storms has really highlighted how much litter is in our oceans with a long legacy and the amount of community support which people have shown to help remove and record it.”
 
Here’s where the litter recorded during the Beachwatch clean-up came from:
  • Public – More than 39 per cent is littered by people
  • Fishing – (12 per cent) includes lines, nets, weights, floats.
  • Shipping – Items dropped, lost or thrown overboard from small craft to cargo ships.
  • Sewage Related Debris (SRD) - 4.3% Bits we put down the loo but shouldn’t – cotton bud sticks, tampons, nappies and the like.
  • Fly-tipped - 0.9% People use some beaches like the local tip for unwanted goods.
  • Medical – Inhalers, plasters, syringes (0.2 per cent).

More than a third of waste could not be identified because it had started to break down in the seas, leaving behind a trail of pollution.

However, the political will to clean-up the seas is far from convincing. At a European level, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive is the only existing legislation that explicitly requires EU Member States to come up with measures to reduce marine litter. The goal is to achieve ‘good environmental status’ and 2020 will be the first deadline to assess whether or not the state of the European marine environment has improved. That's another six years away.

And that can only mean that will be picking plastic waste from their favourite dive sites for years to come.

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