The first African Marine Debris Summit highlighted the urgent need for a collective action to be taken against the problem of marine debris facing the continent of Africa. The Summit – entitled “African lessons to inspire local actions” – took place at the SA National Biodiversity Institute at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and focused specifically on the issue of marine debris around the African continent.
Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing the South African plastics industry, joined hands with the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the United Nations Environment Programme in organizing the conference which brought together marine debris researchers, natural resource managers, policy makers, industry representatives and the non-governmental community.
“The marine environment has many challenges. Global warming is visible within this sphere and its impact is slowly being understood. Overfishing, acidification, chemical pollution with the added pollution of marine debris of which the main product is plastic is compounding the negative effect that humans have on the environment,” the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Me Rejoice Mabudafhasi said during her opening speech.
Mabudafhasi stressed that marine debris is not just an unsightly issue that has a negative impact on tourism and human health, but it also is responsible for deaths of a myriad of the creatures that inhabit the marine environment. “80 percent of all plastic found in the sea has its origins on land through littering and poor waste management so this negative impact on the environment can be reduced and even stopped,” the Deputy Minister said.
Also commenting on the issue, Plastics SA Executive Director Anton Hanekom, confirmed that marine debris is a historical problem that continues to grow. “The world’s oceans and waterways are constantly polluted with a wide variety of marine debris ranging from cans and plastic bags to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels. Many animals, such as sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, have been known to ingest and get entangled in marine debris, which may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death,” Hanekom said.
The extent of the problem of marine debris and its impact on sea mammals, fish and the environment were addressed from various angles by international experts on the topic, including Prof. Peter Ryan, Department of Zoology, Percy Fitzpatrick Ornithological Institute, University of Cape Town, Heidi Savelli of the United Nations Environmental Programme, Dr George Hughes of the Turtle Management and Dr. Martin Engelmann of PlasticsEurope. African countries that were in attendance at the conference included Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Seychelles, whilst Australia, Belgium, and Germany also delivered presentations.
“Marine debris is an international concern not only because it washes up on beaches and shorelines worldwide, but also because debris can be transferred from one country serving as a vector for alien animals and plants to another via ocean currents. International cooperation is needed to create public awareness while developing ways to decrease the amount of debris in oceans around the globe”, said Plastics SA Executive Director Anton Hanekom, who also signed the “Declaration for Solutions on Marine Litter” on behalf of South Africa’s plastics industry in 2011 when plastics industry representatives from across the world met in Dubai to create a global action plan for solutions on marine litter.
This action plan described actions and identified approximately 100 projects which were focused on reducing the impact the plastics industry has on the marine environment and pollution. “Plastics SA was the only African country to sign the Declaration and we made it one of our goals to encourage collective action across the continent”, Hanekom said. “Hosting this Summit has allowed us to clearly identify the extent of the problem of plastics in the marine environment, and we are now able to work towards a sustainable solution. As an industry we recognize that we need to go about our business in a responsible and sustainable manner”.
Plastics SA will once again coordinate South Africa’s participation in the annual International Coastal Clean Up, which will be taking place on Saturday, 21 September 2013.