SARNGADHARAN NAMBIAR –
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever, said Jacques Yves Cousteau. But the seas and oceans also hold each one of us in shame. And the shame could be as heavy as some 269,000 tonnes, if you don’t mind. As many as 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 269,000 tonnes are menacingly floating around in our seas. Are we trying to break the spell of the seas by adding a frustrating 20 million tonnes of plastic every year? What a job we are doing, eh?
That the seas extract a heavy price from us for this gross environmental irresponsibility won’t deter us, though, it seems. Annual losses to the tune of $13 billion are attributed to plastic debris in oceans, mainly through damages to marine ecosystems and the ensuing financial losses to fisheries and tourism, and beach cleaning expenses.
Seabirds, whales and dolphins can become entangled in plastic matter, and floating plastic items — such as discarded nets, docks, and boats — can transport microbes, algae, invertebrates, and fish into non-native regions, affecting the local ecosystems, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Beyond endangering marine life forms, plastic waste also enters the human food chain creating grave health consequences, which is a topic that needs in-depth study.
There is the additional threat of microfiber pollution, with 1.4 trillion microfiber particles weighing up to 236,000 tonnes having reached the seas. A single synthetic clothing item can shed more than 1,900 fibers per wash and can release around 1.7 grams of microfibers, which can find their way to the oceans.
It’s not that the world has not yet taken cognisance of the issue. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) felt it’s high time we pulled the plug on treating the ocean as a “bottomless dumping ground for plastic, sewage and other waste,” and launched the Clean Seas campaign last year with the aim of engaging governments, the public, and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter.
The campaign seeks to contain, and eventually eliminate, marine plastic litter through a three-phased strategy over a five-year period ending in 2021, and targets the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic.
Creating awareness about sea pollution among citizens and engaging them in addressing the issue in their daily lives is a key aspect of the Clean Seas drive, which connects individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments.
Countries committed to the UNEP Clean Seas campaign will work on achieving set goals such as ban on single use plastics, waste recycling, make seas and coasts totally pollution-free within a set deadline, develop marine protected areas, bring effective anti-littering legislation and encourage responsible production and consumption.
The Sultanate, with its strong commitment to environmental protection, wasted no time and joined the Clean Seas project in the same year of its launch vowing to fight marine litter and pollution through stringent measures such as ban on plastic bags, nurturing new marine reserves and promoting plastic recycling.
Significantly, to its credit, the Sultanate now has the region’s first Seabin installed at the Al Mouj Marina towards checking plastic pollution of the sea and encouraging sustainable development.
The Seabin is a floating debris interception device that can be installed in the calm waters of marinas, yacht clubs and ports. It captures floating debris like plastic bottles, bags and micro plastics up to 2mm. As it can skim surface oil as well, Seabin can be highly useful in containing oil spills. A Seabin can catch up to 1.5 kg of floating debris a day including microplastics.
Meanwhile, continuing with its Clean Seas project, the Sultanate’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) recently undertook a series of coral reef cleaning campaigns in the Damaniyat Island Reserves. The campaigns were part of the ministry’s efforts to save Oman’s seas from pollution through the participation of government agencies and private institutions, and highlighting the need to preserve the marine environment among local communities.
With a charming coastline of 3,165 km, and the government increasingly focusing on developing its tourism sector, the Sultanate has high stakes in fighting marine pollution.
Projects such as Clean Seas that have a strong community involvement element are sure to enhance the glory of the Sultanate as the Jewel of the Arabian Peninsula.