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Danger lurking in our ocean

An ocean emergency has been declared by the head of the United Nations and a stark reminder has been given to nations of the dangers of plastic to oceans.

The UN Ocean’s conference has started in Lisbon in Portugal and dangers which were spoken of a decade ago are now staring in the faces of many nations.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres asked for more commitment from the international community.

“We need sustainable business models for ocean economies to operate in harmony with the marine environment, and to guarantee a sustainable seafood industry,” said Mr Guterres as he made four recommendations.

“Second, the ocean must become a model on how we can manage the global commons for our greater good.

“Third, we must protect the oceans, and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them, from the impacts of climate change.

“Fourth, we need more science and innovation to propel us into a new chapter of global ocean action,” he said.

The Ocean Conference is a reminder of how plastic is becoming a problem in the Pacific.

Plastic bottles at a beach. An ocean emergency has been declared by the head of the United Nations and a stark reminder has been given to nations of the dangers of plastic to oceans. Picture: Hugo Tagholm Twitter

Every day approximately eight million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans with about 12 million tonnes of plastic being poured into the ocean every year.

According to data presented at the conference and on current projections, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

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The Prime Minister of Tonga, Siaosi Sovaleni, who spoke on behalf of Pacific Small Islands Developing States said marine plastic pollution is a threat to Pacific people.

Tonga’s PM Siaosi Sovaleni at the UN Ocean’s Conference. An ocean emergency has been declared by the head of the United Nations and a stark reminder has been given to nations of the dangers of plastic to oceans. Picture: UN OC

“In line with Sustainable Development Goal 14, our role and responsibility as ocean stewards is to protect our ocean from plastics and other pollution,” he said.

“We need to protect peoples’ cultural identity, human rights, fisheries, and tourism industries livelihoods, food security and human health through the diligent stewardship of our ecosystems.”

The Pacific Ocean makes up 98 per cent of the region, of which only two per cent is land. The exclusive economic zone makes up over 10 per cent of the world’s ocean, providing vital ecosystem services valued at many billions of dollars underpinning the economic sustainability of the region.

Facing the emerging threat of plastic pollution, Pacific islands welcomed the decision made at the fifth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in March this year to form an internationally binding instrument by 2024 to end plastic pollution, and an agreement to establish a science-policy panel on chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution.

“We strongly urge support for the development of National Plastic Prevention Plans with measurable and time-bound targets and consider supporting legislation to phase out problematic plastics,” said Mr Sovaleni.

“We are deeply concerned about compounding risks due to the accelerating rate of toxic plastic production and consumption.

“The current 368 million tonnes of virgin plastics produced annually is set to double by 2040. Ninety percent of current plastic production ends up in the environment.”

The Pacific islands region contributes as little as 1.3 per cent of global plastic pollution and does not produce plastic polymers, yet the highest recorded quantity of flowing plastics is in the South Pacific subtropical gyre.

The Pacific islands region is grossly and disproportionately affected by the impacts of plastic pollution.

To help address this, the UNEA-5 decision for an internationally legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution is to be implemented within two years, whereas global agreements such as these usually take from five to ten years of negotiation.

The Pacific islands are represented by a strong contingent which includes the leaders from Fiji, Palau and Tonga. Also present are the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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