The Oceans: Pelagic Plastics and other synthetic marine debris - a chronic problem

Murray R. Gregory, University of Auckland

Over the past three decades or more there has been a growing realisation that pollution by plastics and other synthetic debris has become an environmental threat to the marine realm that has reached global proportions. The widely recognised impacts:- death and/or debilitation of wildlife through entanglement and ingestion; reduced quality of life and reproductive performance; hazards to shipping and health; vectors for the dispersal of alien taxa that may endanger coastal ecosystems and seafood resources; visually distasteful; compromising tourism. Because plastics float, degrade slowly, disperse easily and their flux is slowly increasing with time, the environmental effects are cumulative and the problems created are becoming increasingly global and chronic rather than acute and local or regional.

It is now recognised that much (perhaps most) marine pollution has land-based origins. Thus addressing the problems of marine debris is not solely the preserve of Annex V to MARPOL and the London Dumping Convention. On-land waste disposal practices also need to be considered. Management and alleviation of the problems require integrated strategies involving local, regional, national and international consultation before policy decisions can be made. This task will be a challenging one and practical solutions are likely to reflect education rather than regulation.

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