It was a great honour to attend the “Our Ocean 2017” conference held in October in Malta. I believe it was an opportunity for global leaders to discuss the issues being faced by our seas mainly pollution (in particular plastic), a sustainable blue economy and sustainable fisheries amongst others. The guests were greeted to the conference by a peaceful protest organised by Greenpeace against plastic pollution. Very opportune and well done to all involved.
The conference was divided in two areas, the political and the exhibit area. The political area was dominated by strong messages by global leaders about the harm plastic is causing the environment and how plastic is entering our food chain and water table. HRH Prince Charles delivered a touching speech and the European Commissioner Hon. Karmenu Vella stressed on the importance of a circular economy that is based on recycling and reusing. It is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic are entering the oceans every year and this will increase drastically over the coming years. A number of ambitious commitments were made by various countries, notable is the creation of 3 MPA’s in Chile covering an area of 620,000sq Km. and France pledging to ban single use plastic by 2020 . The pledges made by the countries most responsible for marine pollution (China , India and Philippines) fall short of expectations. A full list of pledges can be found on https://ourocean2017.org/our-ocean-commitments .
The exhibit area hosted a number of interesting presentations by various NGOs and private entities. The topics ranged from marine economic activities , waste reduction, ocean monitoring, clean up activities, circular economy but most prominent were initiatives to reduce use of single plastic use. Various NGO’s ( such as Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Lonely Whale foundation) discussed their initiatives in promoting reduction of single use plastic, like plastic straws and plastic bags. There was a lot of positives to come out of this conference. It’s fantastic to see global leaders talking about our ocean and pledging to finally protect it and look after it. The pledges put forward are ambitious, interesting and opportune.
What was slightly disappointing is that there seems to be no cohesive plan in how to handle the problems. Each country is moving in its own direction rather than all countries agreeing on fixed policies. This is a global issue requiring global solutions. A lot of importance was given to the principal of a circular economy whilst little or no mention was given to the actual reduction of plastic use. Recycling whilst good is only a means to reduce the problem. The emphases is to reduce the use of such harmful materials. It seems that this part is taken up by NGO’s on a local level which take it on their shoulder to promote a plastic free society. Whilst the results attained so far have been excellent, the resources are limited. NGO ‘s have strong campaigns in their countries and are expanding but it takes time to get the message across to the masses of people.
I was also disappointed that there was little drive to find ways to collect the plastic currently in the environment and our oceans before it breaks down into micro plastic. Plastic takes decades to break down and most is unfortunately deposited on the sea bed. Ways need to be found to have this collected before it’s too late. Also, big companies need to be pushed to design environmentally friendly products which promote an intelligent use of materials and facilitate recycling.
It’s great to hear that Marine Protected Areas will be set up in various corners of the world. Managing these MPA’s will always be critical to make them work well. Small or developing countries also need all the support from the developed nations to have a truly functional MPA. Fishing and fish species face a lot of challenges which were briefly mentioned but not addressed. The problem of illegal fishing is a big issue stealing local fisherman of their livelihood especially in developing countries. Also by catch and protection of protected species was only briefly mentioned.
Let’s hope that the governments continue to push to protect our seas. Governments seem to be realizing how critical our oceans are. that is already a step in the right direction.
Its never too late.