Marine Debris Summit

Sheraine van Wyk attended the first African Marine Debris Summit, held recently at the SA National Biodiversity Institute at Kirstenbosch. The summit highlighted the urgent need for a collective action to be taken against the problem of marine debris facing the continent of Africa.

Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing the South African plastics industry, joined hands with the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the United Nations Environment Programme in organizing the conference which brought together marine debris researchers, natural resource managers, policy makers, industry representatives and the NGO community.

“The marine environment faces many challenges. Overfishing, acidification, chemical pollution with the added pollution of marine debris such as discarded packaging, is compounding the negative effect that humans have on the environment,” the Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi of the Department of Environmental Affairs said during her opening speech. 

According to Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA, marine debris is a historical problem that continues to grow. “The world’s oceans and waterways are constantly polluted with a wide variety of marine debris ranging from cans, glass and plastics to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels. Many animals, such as sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals have been known to ingest and get entangled in marine debris, which may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation and even death,” Hanekom said.

Sheraine feels strongly that the marine debris problem should be laid squarely at the feet of consumers. “There is no way around the careless & irresponsible littering of plastic by the consumers of goods contained in plastic wrappers and containers.  Most of the marine debris has a land based origin.  This is where the battle needs to be fought.  Yes, the producer has a responsibility, but surely when an item is purchased it is owned by the consumer to whom the responsibility is transferred.”