Tracking litter in Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas
The experience of the ACT4LITTER project
The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most affected areas by marine litter in the world. Marine litter is found lying on the shores, floating from the surface to the bottom of the sea. Even in the preserved places of the Mediterranean, such as coastal and marine protected areas (MPA), marine litter is building up threatening habitats and species. MPA managers stand at the forefront of this issue and sadly they lack the tools and knowledge to effectively tackle it.
Given the urgency of the situation, the European Commission (EC) has been taking action against the growing havoc. For example, the EC launched the first European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, in January 2018, to rethink the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled altogether in the European Union.
In May 2018, the EC proposed new laws to tackle the ten most found Single Use Plastic waste items on Europe’s beaches (representing 43% of total marine litter) and fishing gear (depicting an additional 27% of all marine litter). They both account for 70% of all marine litter found on beaches. These actions clearly demonstrate the Commissions’ commitment to acting against marine litter and particularly its engagement to ensuring that all plastic packages, on the EU market, shall be reusable or recyclable by 2030.
The ACT4LITTER project is part of the Interreg MED Biodiversity Protection thematic community of projects. The project gathers around 22 MPA managers and marine litter experts from 26 entities and ten different countries, including Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Slovenia and Spain, whom have also decided to take part in this battle. Together, they worked to curb marine litter.
At the ACT4LITTER closing conference, held in October 2018 and attended by 130 dedicated marine litter practitioners from all over the Mediterranean, the European Commissioner for Environment, Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said in a video message:
We developed a radical new approach. In January we have put in place the most ambitious, most integrated plastic strategy in the world. We want to transform the plastic sector with dramatic improvements in recycling and steep productions of plastic waste (…). But to win this battle we cannot rely on laws. We will win through the patient dedication of people on the ground. We will win by bringing people together. Researchers and innovators, public authorities and volunteers; collecting the evidence we need and building effective strategies. You are, ladies and gentlemen, a perfect example of that. Your dedicated cooperation is an example for the whole Mediterranean. Our sea is home to millions. It’s the grace of our civilization and it is a global crossroad for development and trade. Your efforts are invaluable in protecting this strategy, so let me also extend my heart-felt gratitude as well. Thank you to each partner in the ACT4LITTER project for safeguarding our seas for the future we want.
The project gives essential support to managers of coastal and marine protected areas to fast-track actions against marine litter, thanks to webinars and by taking on board their views.
These webinars enhanced the managers’ skills on how to monitor marine litter in a harmonized way, by using a standardized beach litter monitoring protocol. Thanks to this protocol, MPA managers of the ACT4LITTER campaign Marine Litter Watch Month, collected detailed information on the amounts and the full range of marine litter deposited on the beaches of protected areas in the Mediterranean. As a result, more than one fourth of the 22 beaches sampled were densely polluted by litter.
Through the adoption of a common working method, marine litter experts, identified some 100 measures to prevent and tackle marine litter. The project also developed a tool to help MPA managers and decision makers to decide/identify the most effective measures for their specific context.
The collective experience of the pilot MPAs sets the baseline for a common urgent response by Mediterranean MPAs to deal with the lurking marine litter threat. This response along with its strategic elements is captured in a joint plan, which aims to assist other MPA managers in the region to achieve their conservation goals.
ACT4LITTER was implemented by the Catalan Waste Agency – Regional Activity Center for Sustainable Consumption and Production (Spain), the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Italy), MedPAN – the Network of Marine Protected Area Managers in the Mediterranean (France), and the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (Greece).