Solid waste, and in particular plastics, are choking the very life out of the oceans. The world currently produces in excess of 400 million tonnes of plastics, and at least 14 million tons of this plastic ends up in the oceans every year. Plastic actually makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Under the influence of solar radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic breaks down into small particles called microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm). The small size makes them easy for marine life to ingest accidentally. These days micro-plastics are found in the tissue of fish, in sea turtle stomachs, and in newborn seabird chicks. The problem is so prevalent that it has become a global human health concern. Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.
The problem is extremely complex to manage. Simple calls for bans on single use plastics are not the solution. Where would we be without the syringes that administered COVID vaccines, for instance? But similarly the continued overuse of plastics – over-dependence even – has to stop. Plastics used to be touted as the very best thing to come out of human ingenuity. Today the conservation world knows better. People say we should stop using plastic bags. Indeed. We should! People say we should stop using plastic straws. Indeed we should do that too! But these are small steps on a very complicated journey.
Driving down the road we see someone throw waste out of a window, or we see people throw rubbish from a boat. These are some obvious cases of irresponsible waste handling. But there are also cases where someone dutifully carries their rubbish to a rubbish bin. But if that rubbish bin overflows, or if dogs and cats get to it, it would be strewn across the ground. Wind then picks that up, and deposits it in a drain, and rains come along and wash that to the sea. This pathway is a bit harder to visualise, but it happens daily. Waste in the oceans largely comes from land-sources, and many different steps are needed to address the problem. People need to be responsible about waste management. We need to use less, and waste less. Municipalities need to be responsible about waste treatment. We need to recycle more, and dump less. Schools need to educate. Governments need to legislate. people need to cooperate. It’s an uphill battle.
But while this is being solved, we can’t quite leave plastics in the ocean either, where they can choke a turtle, or entangle a dolphin, or smother Nemo’s anemone home. We can’t leave the plastics where they are, to break down into micro plastics and enter the food chain. We need to act.
And this is exactly what MRF is doing. In partnership with Nippon KOEI and Kure Daiya Ltd – our partners in Japan – and with Dewan Bandaraya Kora Kinabalu – our close partner here at home – we are exploring options for cleaning up plastics in the ocean. Using a custom built boat from japan this partnership has stamped its mark on the waste problem, and demonstrated that a small committed team can have a massive positive impact on the marine environment. In just a week we collected over one ton of marine plastics. Imagine if this effort was sustained, and replicated, and upscaled.
We invite you to join the partnership, and contribute to a better ocean-based planet.