The Mediterranean Sea is one of the areas most affected by Marine litter worldwide. Indeed, its densely populated, very urbanized coasts accommodate 30% of all maritime traffic and highly developed tourism. Coastal landfills and discharges, industrial and urban outfalls, tourism, shipping, fishing and aquaculture and illegal dumping can cause serious damage. Furthermore, rivers and floodwaters carry litter from other inland areas, and because of the basin’s limited exchanges with other oceans, the litter accumulates inside the basin. Poor practices of solid waste management, wastewater collection and treatment, lack of infrastructure and public awareness aggravate the situation substantially.
The accumulation and dissemination of marine litter has been a regional issue of concern since the 1970s, affecting all the Mediterranean countries with hundreds of tons of plastic entering the basin every day. This poses environmental and economic problems as well as health issues and aesthetic degradations.
Within the framework of the Barcelona Convention, the Mediterranean countries adopted in 1980 a Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources, amended in 1996, recognizing the importance of marine litter. It gave a definition of marine litter as “any persistent manufactured or processed solid material which is discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment». The Mediterranean was also designated a Special Area for the purposes of Annex V of the MARPOL 73/78 Convention, revised in 2011 and after a joint UN Environment/MAP IOC and FAO pilot survey in 1988, an Assessment of the State of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Persistent Synthetic Materials, was published by UNEP/MAP in 1991. Finally, an awareness campaign was developed in 2006 and implemented by NGOs to educate the general public as well as all stakeholders.
The Strategic Framework was adopted by the Contracting Parties of the Barcelona Convention in 2012 and so was the first ever legally-binding Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean (hereunder referred as RPML) in 2013 by the COP18 in Istanbul, in the framework of Article 15 of the LBS Protocol of the Barcelona Convention.
Since then, and as a regional response on Marine Litter, UN Environment/MAP has launched a number of initiatives on marine litter such as the adoption of the Fishing-for-litter Guidelines in 2016 to support the implementation of the RPML, the Regional Assessment on Marine Litter in 2015, and the establishment of the Regional Cooperation Platform on Marine Litter in 2016. Cooperation was reinforced with global initiatives, including G7, the 2016-2021 MTS strategic outputs and the Regional Action Plan on Sustainable and Consumption and Production (SCP). A Basin-wide Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) for the Mediterranean Sea and Coast with consideration to marine litter was also implemented as one of the Environmental Objective and a Quality Status Report (QSR) for the Mediterranean Sea was published in 2017 including two dedicated chapters on marine litter.
The present Mediterranean Node on Marine Litter was finally launched to enhance awareness on marine litter prevention and reduction measures, promote the exchange of information and knowledge, establish linkages and synergies with the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML), and enhance knowledge among governments, NGOs/NPOs and local communities in the Mediterranean.
In 2018, the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean and, when appropriate, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) are the only legal frameworks and instruments applicable in the Mediterranean with regards to marine litter management.