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Seaweek 2012: Marine Debris




Background Information

What is Australia doing about marine debris?

In June 2009, the Australian Government made the Threat Abatement Plan for the Impacts of Marine Debris on Vertebrate Marine Life (the Plan) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) following consultation with stakeholders including industry, conservation groups, state, territory and local governments.

The Threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life and Background paper can be downloaded.

This Plan was developed in response to the Natural Resource Management (NRM) Ministerial Council's A National Approach to Addressing Marine Biodiversity Decline, which recognises marine pollution as a significant threat to the health of listed species.

It provides a framework with timeframes and actions to ensure a coordinated national approach on the issues. The Plan will:

  • review existing policies, codes of practice, conventions and activities to determine their effectiveness
  • coordinate abatement strategies identified in separate marine animal recovery plans, such as the Marine Turtle Recovery Plan and the Grey Nurse Recovery Plan; and
  • examine the effectiveness of joint agreements with other nations to address the issues of marine debris and its impact on wildlife, and assess the need for new ones.

The Australian Government is working in close cooperation with state and territory governments to implement the Plan. "A five year review on progress under the Plan is scheduled to take place in 2015."

Please note: marine debris resulting from the legal disposal of garbage at sea is excluded from the key threatening process. Under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, overboard disposal of food, paper, glass, metal and crockery (but not plastics) is permitted from vessels more than 12 nautical miles from land. For more information, see the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's MARPOL page. (Marpol 73/78 is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978.)

The National Marine Debris Initiative, run by Tangaroa Blue and Surfrider Foundation Australia, aims at empowering individuals and community groups to adopt their local stretch of coast and work on proactive ways or removing and reducing the amount of marine debris impacting their marine ecosystem through beach cleanups and community education. The initiative engages with volunteers, community groups, industry and government agencies and other environmental organisations in making a positive and sustainable impact on marine debris.

Tasmania - South West Marine Debris Cleanup 2011
Ninna Millikin reports on the 2011 South West Marine Debris Cleanup on Tasmania's
remote south-west beaches. Despite being a wild and largely unvisited area, found
within one of the planet's most significant World Heritage Areas, a vast quantity
of marine debris - especially plastic pollution - washes up here from all around the globe.
This short piece summarises the work of the 2011 Cleanup. A longer piece with more information on the material collected is in preparation. The Cleanup was made possible
by the support and hard work of the sponsors and volunteers listed in the video.
Filming and editing was made possible with the support of the Bookend Trust and
the Southern Waste Strategy Authority.



Sorting marine debris
Image from Tangaroa Blue

Since 2004 volunteers involved in the Marine Debris Projects have removed more than 500,000 pieces of marine debris during beach and coastal clean ups.

The South Australian government has banned the use of free lightweight plastic bags,

Educational programs such as Clean Up Australia Day and Keep Australia Beautiful aim to raise the community's awareness of damage caused by marine debris, especially discarded plastics. Ongoing public campaigns are required because marine debris is still being dumped or discarded and impacting the marine environment.

Sea dumping

Australia currently regulates the deliberate loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Act 1986. The waters surrounding Australia's coastline are increasingly threatened by pollution from wastes dumped at sea. To reduce this threat, there are Australian Government laws that control dumping at sea.

Garbage from ships is subject to controls under the International Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships 1973 (amended in 1978). This convention is enforced through the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 (Commonwealth) in Australia, and prohibits all discarding of plastics overboard. The Australian Seafood Industry Council has developed a voluntary Code of Conduct for a Responsible Seafood Industry. This code aims to minimise waste from fishing industry activities and to ensure all lost fishing gear is recorded and reported.

A typical 3,000-passenger cruise ship produces
over eight tons of solid waste weekly.

More at

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