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World Oceans Day: Fighting Ghost Gear and Plastic Waste

June 6, 2019

This Saturday people around the globe will come together to celebrate World Oceans Day, the annual observation to help protect and conserve the world’s oceans for a better future.

A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival. Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, and contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Oceans provide the majority of the oxygen we breathe, clean the water we drink, regulate our climate and help feed our growing global population.

Every year, World Oceans Day offers an opportunity to celebrate and honor the ocean. On 8 June, people around the globe are encouraged to come together with their families, friends, and community, to take action to help protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

This year, the issue of plastic pollution will take centre stage as World Ocean Day’s annual conservation focus. Ocean plastic pollution can have serious economic consequences, as businesses and governments spend billions on clean up operations and litter removal, but could also pose a risk to human health. Scientists are finding that microplastics are entering the food chain, being consumed by fish and eventually ending up in our bodies.

But plastic pollution in the ocean is also one of the main threats to marine life. It affects all types of ocean wildlife from marine mammals like whales, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish to microscopic animals and corals.

The mass of plastic waste in the oceans is now so vast that it has been called the ‘seventh continent’. At the rate it is growing, scientists estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to the Solar Impulse Foundation.

Addressing aquaculture impacts

Two main sources account for more than 35 different plastic materials which can end up in the environment from aquaculture. The first is aquaculture gear such as nets, cage components, buoys, and pond liners, and the second is plastic tools and materials.

The negative impacts of aquaculture gear and marine litter on animals and the environment are numerous, including the risk of marine life ingesting or becoming entrapped or entangled in plastic debris, physical impact on the seabed, and disruption and loss of costal areas.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) current standards set criteria for dealing with plastic with requirements for certified farms to implement policies for waste reduction and recycling, and ensuring responsible storing and disposal of waste. But that’s not all we’re doing to help tackle this important issue.

Towards a new approach

Last year, ASC signed an agreement with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) pledging to develop scientific knowledge of the impact of plastic waste and aquaculture gear used in farming, and to establish best practices that can be applied in ASC’s standards.

GGGI is the world’s largest cross-sectoral alliance dedicated to finding solutions to the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise abandoned fishing gear (ALDFG, also known as ‘ghost gear’). It works globally and locally with a diverse group including industry, private sector, academia, governments and NGOs, to build evidence, define best practices, inform policy, and find solutions for issues related to ghost gear. ASC was the first aquaculture body to join the initiative.

Through their collaboration, ASC and GGGI are working on developing a refined definition for aquaculture gear, and are conducting risk assessments for each aquaculture gear type.

ASC’s proposal for tacking plastic will be based on the 5 R’s approach – reduce, re-use, recycle, recover, refuse – to help address negative impacts of aquaculture gear and plastic waste from farming.

In the future, certified producers will be required to carry out a risk assessment of potential plastic contamination and pollution, and to implement mitigation actions to minimise the impact at the farm and its surroundings. Farms will need to record all used and disposed plastic material, and should implement a plastic waste monitoring programme to ensure waste is disposed in a responsible manner, recycling when possible.

Supporting Sustainable Development Goals

ASC’s approach to plastic waste aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Under Water, which was established to address marine pollution, conserve coastal and marine areas, increase scientific knowledge, and transfer technology to improve ocean health.

Whilst ASC’s standards contribute to protecting the world’s oceans by requiring farms to improve their practices related to plastic, standards and certification schemes can’t do it alone.

World Oceans Day is your chance to take action, by helping to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, and demand less disposable plastic in our everyday lives. You can make a difference by being aware of the threat plastic pollution poses to the environment, humans, and marine life, by supporting initiatives to reduce plastic waste, and by making a conscious choice for certified seafood when doing your grocery shopping.

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