The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has overseen the publication of new guidelines on monitoring plastic levels in the ocean.
The guidelines, compiled by IMO-sponsored United Nations (UN) advisory body the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), lay out common definitions and categories of marine plastic pollution with examples of representative sizes and shapes; instructions on what samples to take and the best methods for collecting samples; the establishment of baseline surveys; and appropriate forms of assessing and recording plastic levels in oceans and on beaches. The report also covers issues pertaining to citizen science programmes; as well as the particular needs of plastic monitoring both on the surface of the ocean and on the seafloor.
GESAMP produced the guidelines in response to the UN’s target of significantly reducing levels of plastics in the oceans by 2025: the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a coalition of just under 30 global companies across five continents, has pledged to invest more than $1 billion (€884 million) in projects to eliminate plastic waste in the world’s oceans over the next five years.
Before the publication of this report, there were no wide-ranging or internationally agreed guidelines for marine plastic monitoring; and GESAMP aims to address this by releasing a detailed recommended methodology for gauging and reporting the “distribution and abundance” of plastic litter and microplastics.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said: “Five to 12 million tons of plastic now enter the ocean every year, threatening the health of countless species – from the smallest zooplankton to the largest whales. 90 percent of large predators have already been taken out of the ocean by overfishing, some 30 percent of fish stocks are over-exploited, and over 500 hypoxic areas have become ‘dead zones’ uninhabitable for most species. To reverse this, a literal ‘sea change’ is required in how we manage both ocean and land-based activities, across sectors ranging from fisheries to agriculture to waste management.”