By Emily Olivia Bartels Bland
WASHINGTON, USA — Images of floating trash islands, large accumulations of plastic larger than entire countries, are becoming painfully familiar these days. Our seas and oceans have increasingly become repositories for millions of tons of pollutants, with subsequent severe environmental, health, social and economic impacts. This poses grave threats to the very way of life and sustainable development of many regions in the world.
One vivid example is in the Caribbean, where millions of people depend on the blue economy, including tourism and fishing.
According to a new World Bank report “Marine Pollution in the Caribbean: Not a Minute to Waste,” about 80 percent of pollution comes from land, and more than 320,000 tons of plastic waste remains uncollected each year in the blue waters and white-sandy Caribbean beaches. Coral reef degradation and marine pollution represent an estimated annual revenue loss of between US$350 million and US$870 million.
This must stop! For World Ocean’s Day, let’s discover 12 concrete ways that countries can fight marine pollution and support a healthy, productive and resilient Caribbean Sea:
1. Ban single-use plastic and adopt litter control policies
As of Monday, 14 Caribbean countries, accounting for one-third of the region’s small Island States, have banned single-use plastics and/or Styrofoam. Litter control can also include the use of natural drainage systems and urban design to prevent direct littering into drainage systems and waterways, better maintenance of drainage systems, beach and harbour cleanup services; and community-led programs for cleanups. In this effort, it is essential to strengthening national and regional policies and regulations, as well as increase efforts to ensure compliance and enforcement.
2. Reduce or recycle plastic
Fees, voluntary programs, and bans on import and use of common litter such as single-use plastics bottles, straws, plastic bags and single-use Styrofoam food containers. This should also involve efforts to limit the production and use of plastic in non-recoverable items, such as microbeads in personal care products and cosmetics. Encourage reduction of the use of non-biodegradable products or packaging, as well as reuse of plastic items.
3. Diminish discharge of untreated sewage
Increase treatment, recycling and reuse of wastewater. Connect all households to the sewage system and reduce stormwater-related pollution. Treated wastewater should be seen as a resource which, if used wisely and safely to avoid health problems, can be very beneficial in particular in small islands where freshwater resources are scarce.
4. Control chemical and industrial pollution
Identify chemical pollutants hotspots, control the use and release of chemicals in artisanal mining, promote recycling of used oil in urban areas, and incentivize production of durable products that require less energy to manufacture and generate less waste. Partner with industries to implement better practices for the storage and handling of pollutants, and discharges from industrial sites.
5. Increase funding for marine pollution prevention and control
Fighting pollution needs more budgets. Options for pollution control programs range from charging fees for ecosystem services to introducing market-based incentives, applying the “polluter pays” principle whereby those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it, and tax incentives and reforms. These incentives might include subsidies for pollution control, permit systems for “green” businesses with pollution, deposit-refund systems and pricing approaches.
6. Strengthen laws on marine litter
Reinforce institutional and legal framework to address marine pollution at regional and national levels.
National policies and legislation should be aligned with international commitments for sustainable development such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Cartagena Convention along with its Protocol concerning pollution from Land-Based Sources.
7. Integrate prevention and control policies into national policy
Pollution control is relevant not just to coastal and marine resources but also to the development of tourism, agriculture, shipping and industry. As such, it should be part of economic and land-use planning, as well as integrated water management.
8. Build local expertise and technical capacity
Enhancing consumers’ knowledge and capacity to make better decisions regarding their day to day waste production is critical to reduce marine pollution and incentivize such practices.
9. Raise public awareness
Public education on local television, radio, social media and websites can raise awareness, and the environment’s importance to the region’s welfare needs to be taught in the classrooms as well. This would entail involving ministries of education to introduce new material into school curricula so that children in upcoming generations will grow up with a grasp of the issue.
10. Establish partnerships to address marine pollution
Public-private partnerships should also be established to provide financing, improve public awareness, reduce the improper disposal of waste and develop innovative approaches to reduce marine pollution. These include civil society, the tourism and fisheries industries, coastal developers, technology companies, institutions and coastal communities.
11. Monitor marine pollution in a systematic way
The Caribbean does not have enough environmental data about its waters, because only a few countries have the necessary systems in place to collect them. It is particularly important to understand key pollutants, identify pollution hotspots, and their impacts on marine biodiversity, fisheries and human health. This information should be integrated into regional reporting processes to enhance regional cooperation.
12. Assess the economic impacts
Economic impacts of marine pollution should be better understood to prioritize and inform changes in pollution control policies. This requires common policy reforms — standards for measuring the existing and potential losses.
These 12 points are from the “Marine Pollution in the Caribbean” report “, calling for urgent actions to restore damaged ecosystems and protect the Caribbe