Marine Litter (Descriptor 10)
Marine litter includes all solid waste of anthropogenic (human) origin that enters the marine environment in any way. If not removed, the litter remains where it was left. The Slovenian marine environment and coast contain litter of all types and origins. Most of it is from plastic materials originating from land (settlement, tourism, industry) and marine activities (fishing, mariculture, sea transport).
Figure 11-1: a – Cigarette butts from the Slovenian coast (photo by: Mljač B., 2009); b – Floating debris (photo by: Ljubec B., 2011); c – Micro-plastics from Koper Bay (photo by: Palatinus A., 2011); d – Photo of an albatross chick from the series of photos “Midway: Message from the Gyre” (photo by: Chris Jordan).
The IWRS deals with marine litter in preparing content for the Marine Directive and through other projects, namely in preparing content for the MARLISCO project. It has established a successful collaboration with the University of Nova Gorica, doing sampling and examining samples for micro-plastics on the water surface with its students. In order to raise public awareness, the students have set up a website about their work and micro-plastics (www.marinedebris.eu and the Facebook profile Mikroplastika).
Why is it Important to Deal with Marine Litter?
- Litter negatively impacts marine organisms due to a number of factors:
- entanglement of marine animals in litter (injury, suffocation, inability to move);
- ingestion of litter by marine animals (starvation, internal injuries);
- transfer of non-native species;
- transfer of toxic substances (e.g. persistent organic pollutants) via litter along the food chain;
- damage to marine habitats (e.g. litter on the seabed blocks light from reaching benthic organisms, prevents the exchange of gases, causes physical damage to organisms).
What are the Main Sources of Marine Litter?
Litter enters the marine environment due to human activities and improper waste management. Its main sources are settlement (introduction via waste waters, sewage systems, littering in coastal towns, open dumps, inadequately regulated waste landfills), tourism (littering on beaches), fishing and mariculture (lost or discarded fishing gear and shellfish farming equipment), sea transport (illegal dumping of waste from vessels) and other (waste entering the sea via freshwater rivers).
We have set objectives regarding marine environment pollution with solid waste that have to be achieved by 2020. Our desire is to decrease the quantity of waste found on beaches in comparison with the 2012 reference year. This will be achieved by carrying out a series of measures for improving waste management in the region at the sources of pollution. The quantity of micro-plastics in this period should not increase. Considering the fact that we are in the process of identifying the source of micro-plastics in the sea, we want to preserve the quantity of micro-plastics at the present level by applying measures for managing waste of greater size.
- Operational targets include developing criteria and indicators that adequately incorporate the impacts of marine litter and their degradation products (mostly plastics) on the marine ecosystem and on human health.
- It is also necessary to examine the quantities and trends for waste on the seabed and the sea surface and examine their relevance in terms of impact on the marine ecosystem.