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Stopping the spread

The issue of death by plastic in Commonwealth Marine Areas and The Great Barrier Reef

20 Nov 2018

Plastic pollution, both land-based and in our oceans, is one of the most significant environmental challenges the world faces. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has even called it a critical problem, comparable to climate change. While plastic pollution is not the only type of marine litter, it is the most abundant form and poses a worldwide threat to marine environments. Mass production of plastic materials, coupled with inefficient disposal systems and widespread limited environmental awareness, exacerbate the issue.

Marine litter is “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in, the marine and coastal environment”. It is found across the planet, including in remote regions far from civilisation – such as Antarctica, remote mountain-tops and the deep-sea ocean floor. In marine environments, the litter accumulates in high densities posing detrimental consequences for marine life. Many species either accidentally swallow or become entangled in the litter, resulting in injury and sometimes death. It also has economic consequences, for example by limiting fishery productivity.

There is an urgent need to address marine litter both through the strengthening of existing strategies and through new innovations and technology. As marine litter is rooted in production and consumption patterns and the disposal and management of waste, it is these areas where interventions are necessary.

The aim of the report is to look at what could be done at the federal level to reduce marine litter in our oceans by examining lessons from international case studies. The strategies are categorised in five themes: prevention (preventing the production of plastic and other litter in the first place), mitigation (minimising the amount of litter entering water sources), removal (removing litter from marine environments), education (educating the public and other key stakeholders) and research (understanding the extent and impact of marine litter). It is however important that the potential negative impacts of any policy recommendations are assessed before adoption.

However, the Constitution prescribes no specific environmental regulatory powers to the Federal Government and those powers that the Federal Government does have through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are limited and weak. As stressed by numerous environmental organisations, including the Boomerang Alliance, Places You Love and Environmental Defenders Offices, there is an urgent need for national leadership both on marine litter and on environmental matters more generally.


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