Each year, at least 8 million tons of plastic leak into the ocean, harming over 600 marine life species and nearly all seabirds. It's estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and that 99 percent of seabirds will have ingested plastic. Already 15 percent of the sea life species affected by ocean plastics are endangered. What's more, coral reefs—the habitat of many sea creatures—are dying due to pollution.
All of this can be traces back to microplastics, or tiny particles of plastic that measure less than 5mm. At least 51 million micro-plastic particles are already in our oceans, the source of which, of course, is unsustainable human activity. Plastic is everywhere in human culture. And that's what United Nations Environment is striving to fix with its Clean Seas campaign.
The UN launched Clean Seas in February 2017 with the aim of engaging governments, the general public, civil society and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter.
"Over the next five years, we will address the root-cause of marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic," the campaign's website reads. "To do this effectively, we need citizens to be aware, engaged and active in addressing the problem in their own lives and beyond. We are also giving a platform to hundreds of local organizations who are already doing important work on marine litter to highlight their efforts."
Today four more countries joined the UN's cause—Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka, and South Africa—with plans to ban plastic bag, create new marine reserves, and increase recycling. Forty countries are now part of the campaign and account for more than half of the world's coastline.
"For too long, we have treated the ocean as a bottomless dumping ground for plastic, sewage and other waste," UN Environment head Erik Solheim said in a statement. "The countries supporting Clean Seas are showing the leadership we need in order to end this abuse, and protect the marine resources on which millions depend for their livelihoods."
Each country is identifying its own priorities within the Clean Seas campaign: South Africa is stepping up its beach cleanup programs, and focusing on actions against waste created by electronics, lighting, tires, and paper and packaging; Chile is ramping up producer waste responsibility, encouraging recycling and establishing more marine protected areas; and Sri Lanka is implementing a ban on single-use plastic products starting next year and promises to have its beaches pollution-free by 2030.
"Sri Lanka is taking bold action to turn the tide on plastics," Sri Lankan Environment Minister Anura Dissanayake said. "We want to be a green and blue beacon of hope in Asia and do everything we can to keep the seas clean."
As well as offsetting pollution, these initiatives are also about engaging citizens of these countries in the act of conservation and eco-consciousness.
"By connecting individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments, UN Environment aims to transform habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes," the Clean Seas website reads.
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