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IMO Issues Guidelines on How to Monitor Ocean Plastic

A new set of publicly-available guidelines for monitoring plastic in the oceans is expected to help harmonize how the scale of the issue is assessed.

The guidelines have been published by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), a body that advises the United Nations system on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection. They cover what to sample, how to sample it and how to record and assess plastics in the oceans and on the shoreline, including establishing baseline surveys.
They also include common definitions for categories of marine litter and plastics and provide examples of size and shape.

Sections cover citizen science programs and there are detailed chapters on monitoring sea surface floating plastic and plastic on the seafloor.

The guidelines are a response to the hitherto lack of an internationally agreed methodology to report on the distribution and abundance of marine plastic litter and microplastics and directly contribute to the U.N. SDG Goal 14 on the oceans. Specifically, the guidelines are a response to target 14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including plastic debris and nutrient pollution.

On March 3, the United Nations led celebrations for the U.N. World Wildlife Day with a theme this year of: Life below water: for people and planet. Over three billion people depend on these resources for their livelihoods globally. The market value of marine and coastal resources and related industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year, about five percent of global GDP.

“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,” said UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner. “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.”

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