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Marine Litter Assessment in the Mediterranean Sea

Marine litter in the Mediterranean is a confirmed critical issue. The 2015 UN Environment/MAP Marine Litter Assessment report provides detailed information and data on waste and plastic inputs to the sea, sources of litter, changes in their composition and transport patterns for the four compartments of the marine environment (beaches, surface, seabed, and marine organisms).

It also presents original data and information on micro-plastics, derelict fishing gear and their impact and details the general reduction measures, especially those that are important for the Mediterranean Sea. The main findings of the assessment demonstrated litter is originating mainly from land-based sources. Plastics (mainly single use) make for 45% to 95% of total litter depending on the compartment, when fishing related litter, including ghost nets, prevail in commercial fishing zones.

Studies unveil a vast array of species that are affected by litter, ranging from invertebrates, fish and reptiles to cetaceans. The assessment recommended 15 points of relevance for the near future, to be initiated in order to improve basic knowledge and to support both monitoring and management.

2017 Mediterranean Quality Status Report

Barcelona Convention in 2008, the Mediterranean Action Plan has now delivered the first ever Quality Status Report for the Mediterranean, building upon existing data and complemented with inputs from numerous sources when appropriate. The report serves as the baseline for defining the measures for progressing towards Good Environmental Status in the Mediterranean and sharpening the monitoring programmes.

When it comes to marine litter, information exists but the picture remains fragmented. Plastics are the major components with cigarette butts, food wrappers and plastic bags being the top marine litter items. Accumulation rates vary widely in the basin and are subject to factors such as adjacent urban activities, shore and coastal uses, winds, currents, and accumulation areas. Monitoring should be based on common protocols and standardized methods, when the lack of long-term assessment data makes the evaluation of trends difficult.

Effective management practices are also missing, requiring strong policy will and societal engagement. Cooperation and collaboration between the major marine litter partners in the region with common priority actions is also considered important.

Regional Cooperation Platform on Marine Litter in the Mediterranean

Within the framework of its EU-funded Marine Litter MED Project, UN Environment/MAP Barcelona Convention has brought together major actors to enhance marine litter regional governance. The Regional Cooperation Platform on Marine Litter in the Mediterraneanwas established at the invitation of the UN Environment/MAP in September 2016.

It consists of more than 20 organizations from across the Mediterranean representing different sectors including academia, policy-making, industry, fisheries, research institutions, and NGOs. Its purpose is to provide coordinated support and guidance to the implementation of the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean and to be a forum of consultation, exchange of best practices and solutions seeking.

It is an open-ended group, to contribute to the environmentally sound management, coordinating actions will maximize results and enhance the impact of marine litter management in the region. As high priorities in the UN Environment/MAP Mid-Term Strategy (MTS 2016-2021), the roundtable has identified a number of priority activities with special focus on marine litter management, supporting the implementation of marine litter monitoring programmes, promoting the UN Environment/GPA on-line course on marine litter and ensuring large participation in common clean-up campaigns.

Marine litter and the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme

The Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention adopted, in 2016 (COP 19, Athens), the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Mediterranean Sea and Coast and Related Assessment Criteria (IMAP). IMAP describes the strategy, themes, and products to deliver in the framework of the UN Environment/MAP Barcelona Convention during the second cycle of the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach Process in 2016-2021.

The IMAP assessment component shall consider the characteristics, pressures and impacts on the marine and coastal environment and evaluate the current environmental state, monitoring and assessment scales. For the Ecological Objective 10 (EO10: marine litter), two common indicators (CI) are considered: focusing on distribution and amounts of litter on beaches (CI22) and in the water column, including microplastics (CI23).

A candidate indicator (CI24) evaluates the trends for litter ingested by marine organisms focusing, at pilot scale, on marine turtles. The current phase of IMAP implementation (2016-2019) points out the need for further work to successfully deliver the required data to assess the Good Environmental status and contribute to 2023 Mediterranean Quality Status Report.

The future directions include tailored capacity-building activities, harmonized protocols, an IMAP-compatible Info-System, the further development of the risk-based approaches and new monitoring tools, a rationalized and science-based definition of baselines, targets and thresholds, and reinforced cooperation at sub-regional level. All actions from the Mediterranean Action Plan on marine litter are building on existing knowledge, best practices, and contributions from various actors focusing on policies, industry, fisheries, research and social aspects. A supporting documentation is associated to these initiatives, providing the scientific, technical, economic and political background to support a better management of marine litter.