Home » Breaking News, Maritime » UN guidelines for monitoring plastics in oceans released

A new set of publicly available guidelines for monitoring plastics and microplastics in the oceans will help harmonize how scientists and others assess the scale of the marine plastic litter problem, according to the International Maritime Organization.

Released at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly this month in Nairobi, Kenya, the Guidelines for the monitoring and assessment of plastic litter and microplastics in the ocean is in response to the lack of an internationally agreed methodology to report on the distribution and abundance of plastic litter and microplastics in marine environments.

The guidelines were 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.

The guidelines 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 include recommendations, advice and practical guidance for establishing programs to monitor and assess the distribution and abundance of plastic litter, also referred to as plastic debris, in the ocean.

The guidelines include common definitions for categories of marine litter and plastics, examples of size and shape, how to design monitoring and assessment programs, sampling and surveys.

The full set of guidelines is available to download free of charge from the GESAMP website here.

The guidelines can be used by national, inter-governmental and international organizations with responsibilities for managing the social, economic and ecological consequences of land- and sea-based human-activities on the marine environment.

The UN Environment said that as of 2010, an estimated 11.1 billion items of plastic are thought to be in the Asia-Pacific region alone and this is expected to increase to 15.7 billion by 2025.

Moreover, ghost gear is likely to be one of the most significant threats in marine ecosystems and over 46% of plastics found in the “floating garbage patches” (or gyres) are made up of this plastic type.

“There is greater political and social awareness of the issue that plastic pollution is having on the world’s marine environments,” said UN Environment’s chief scientist, Jian Liu. “Without harmonization of the data being collected globally, the collective response to tackle the marine plastic issue will always be compromised.

“Now with access to shared monitoring guidelines, we will have a clearer picture of the true scale of the problem, and measure the impact of dedicated reduction measures, such as the banning of single use plastics.”

Photo: Muntaka Chasant

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