Global Environment Facility advises on ocean issues

20 12 2011

First, I’d better help you wade through the morass of bureaucratic structure here: the oddly named Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a partnership between non-governmental organizations (including several United Nations programs), private sector participants, and 182 member governments from around the globe. The GEF’s substantial budget funds projects focusing on “biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants” in developing and transitional economies. The GEF is advised by six experts on their Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP), which is essentially the objective science behind the GEF’s money.

The STAP has just released two publications on what they deem the most relevant challenges currently facing our global environment. Both topics have been featured here on this blog with some frequency: 1) hypoxic “dead zones” resulting from nutrient run-off into the oceans, and 2) Marine plastic pollution. The first issue was selected in light of the increasing number of these zones, now estimated at over 500 worldwide. The report is encouraging in its findings that this problem has a clear solution: reduce the amount of agricultural wastes, human sewage and livestock manure entering the oceans. As such, the GEF is advised to target funding at projects seeking to slow or stop these streams of excessive nutrients.

Honestly, why do these plastic toys need to be encased in plastic? Fragile immune systems in Star Wars droids?

The report on marine plastics is a bit more holistic, recognizing that we have been focused on the end result of plastics in the oceans and have not adequately addressed the matter of why we generate so much single use, designed-for-disposal plastic. The STAP advocates that the GEF apply itself to plastic pollution throughout that material’s lifetime, adopting a “5 Rs approach: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Redesign and Recover.”

On a personal note, your blogger points out the report’s specific mention of all the single use plastic used simply to package other items. As the mother of two small boys at Christmastime, I have found myself often demoralized by the shelves and shelves of plastic toys, which are themselves encased in plastic. As a result, my boys receive a great many second-hand, thrift store action figures as gifts due to my inability to fully finance this disposable culture. Still, none of us can avoid it entirely. Everything comes wrapped in plastic, much of which cannot be recycled either. As the STAP report points out, we have to stem this land based runoff of plastic if we want less of this stuff to end up in the oceans.

So as Hanukah begins, and Christmas closes in, I wish a minimally packaged holiday to all who celebrate, and to everyone, a reduced runoff of fecal material into our oceans!




3 responses

7 01 2012
Frank Kenny

I am currently reading “Plastic Ocean” by Capt. Charles Moore which is a good book concerning the amount of plastic found in sea water samples which is alarming. I would highly reccommend it to anyone who is concerned with this problem, which should be everyone.


24 01 2012
Harry, "The Flotsam Diaries"

Do you or your volunteers ever do necropsies of the stomachs of birds, etc. that have washed in? I’m curious how many have plastic inside them. Studies have shown that 80% of Arctic fulmars have plastic in their bellies, and I imagine it’s similar with most coastal birds. A horrid problem & just getting worse. But every angle that we can bring to light what it’s doing right here & now, maybe that’s another few people who start to see it & fight it.

24 01 2012

I’m glad you asked!
Yes, we have historically done necropsies on seabirds found along out shores, though funding has dropped substantially for that. Here’s an older post with pictures of what we typically find in shearwaters:
Other species necropsied (gulls, eiders and other sea ducks, gannets, loons) rarely have plastic in their stomachs. Life history differences appear to be the determinant. It’s definitely an issue we continue to follow with interest at SEANET!

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