, June 8, 2009 (ENS) - Human activities are taking a "terrible toll" on the world's oceans and seas, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today in a message marking the first United Nations World Oceans Day.
"Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources," said Ban.
Increased ocean temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose further threats to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies, he said.
Pilot whale in oil spilled by the Prestige off the Galician coast of Spain. 2002. (Photo © Ana Belén Rodríguez Álvarez courtesy Global Marine Pollution Information Gateway)
Although World Oceans Day has been celebrated by many countries since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where it was proposed by the government of Canada, the UN General Assembly decided last year to make it an officially recognized UN annual observance on June 8.
Oceans provide 97.5 percent of the Earth's water and cover 70 percent of the planet's surface. Oceans generate most of the oxygen humans and animals breathe, regulates the climate and offers an array of foods and medicines.
But a rising tide of marine litter is harming oceans and beaches worldwide, says a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme and Ocean Conservancy.
The first attempt to take stock of the marine litter situation in the 12 major regional seas around the world finds that cigarettes and plastic especially plastic bags and PET bottles is the most pervasive type of marine litter around the world.
"This report is a reminder that carelessness and indifference is proving deadly for our oceans and its inhabitants," says Philippe Cousteau, CEO of EarthEcho International and Ocean Conservancy board member.
"Offered here are more than mere facts and figures. The time for action is now, and true change will require taking a bold and courageous stand," Cousteau said. "There are solutions that everyone, everywhere in the world, can adopt to make a positive difference for our water planet."
Marine trash circling in the Great Pacific gyre in a garbage patch estimated to be twice the size of Texas. (Photo by Cesar Harada)
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Marine litter is symptomatic of a wider malaise - namely the wasteful use and persistent poor management of natural resources. The plastic bags, bottles and other debris piling up in the oceans and seas could be dramatically reduced by improved waste reduction, waste management and recycling initiatives."
"Some of the litter, like thin-film single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," said Steiner.
"Other waste can be cut by boosting public awareness, and proposing an array of economic incentives and smart market mechanisms that tip the balance in favor of recycling, reducing or re-use rather than dumping into the sea," he said.
The report's findings indicate that despite several international, regional and national efforts to reverse marine pollution, rubbish thrown out to sea continues to endanger people's safety and health, entrap wildlife, damage nautical equipment and deface coastal areas around the world.
"The ocean is our life support system it provides much of the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat and climate we need to survive yet trash continues to threaten its health," said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy. "The impact of marine debris is clear and dramatic; dead and injured wildlife, littered beaches that discourage tourism and choked ocean ecosystems. Marine debris is one of the most widespread pollution threats facing our ocean and it is completely preventable."
Remains of a Laysan albatross chick that was accidentally fed plastic by its parents and died as a result. 2006. (Photo by Duncan Wright courtesy USFWS)
Plastics can be mistaken as food by marine mammals, birds, fish and turtles. Sea turtles, in particular, may confuse floating plastic bags with jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.
A five-year survey of fulmars found in the North Sea region found that 95 percent of these seabirds had plastic in their stomachs.
Plastic debris is breaking down into tinier and tinier pieces that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web. Plastics collect toxic compounds that then can get into the bodies of organisms that eat the plastic.
Studies of Northeast Atlantic plankton have found plastic in samples dating back to the 1960s.
Smoking-related activities contribute to marine litter. Cigarette filters, tobacco packets and cigar tips make up 40 percent of all marine litter in the Mediterranean, while in Ecuador smoking-related rubbish accounted for over half of the total coastal litter in 2005.
"World Ocean Day was established by the United Nations to help create awareness about our seas, their importance to people, and the growing threats they face," said Lynne Hale, director of The Nature Conservancy's global marine program. "Recent studies about the threatened state of our oceans serve as an important reminder there are small and tangible steps that each of us can take to help reduce our impacts."
The Nature Conservancy suggests:
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