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Oceana: Marine plastic threatens food security


Plastic materials polluting the waters threaten the country’s food safety and security.

Top Australian fishery veterinarian Dr. Matt Landos, pointed out during a recent webinar conducted by Oceana with International Pollutants Elimination Network and Ecowaste Coalition, that microplastic particles have been found to be responsible for serious harm to aquatic life.

He said microscopic life such as zooplanktons found at the bottom of marine food webs confuse the plastic particles for food. “As there is no nutrition in plastic for the aquatic life, it fails to thrive and grow,” he said.

Marine microplastics are tiny plastic particles that come from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as water bottles, plastic packaging, and similar products. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.

Oceana vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said the problem with microplastics is that these can take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose—and in the meantime, wreak havoc on the environment.

Landos—who is the director of the Future Fisheries Veterinary Service based in New South Wales—further explained that zooplanktons are important in the aquatic food chain as these provide the “first meal” for the fish in their early life. “Those aquatic creatures that rely upon these zooplanktons further up the food chain suffer in a knock-on domino effect of starvation,” he said.

Microplastics have already been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood, and even in drinking water. “Even larger plastics such as polyethylene plastic bags cause direct threats to whales and turtles as they get inadvertently ingested, and cause blockages to the gut,” Landos said.

Ramos pointed out that much of marine plastic pollution is the result of storms, water runoff, and winds that carry plastic waste into the ocean. She pointed to single-use plastics—plastic items meant to be used just once and then discarded—as the primary source of plastic pollution in the environment.

The Oceana executive said several countries are already taking action to reduce microplastics in the environment. A 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard to the oceans, their wildlife, and human health. (Source: https://www.un.org/depts/los/consultative_process/documents/ICP17_report…). “While the Philippines has a law regarding solid waste management, implementation by the concerned government agencies remains lacking,” she said.

The Waste Assessment Brand Audit 2019 report of the Global Alliance for Incinerators Alternatives (GAIA) showed that the country produced daily 164 million pieces of sachets, 48 million shopping bags, 45.2 million pieces of “labo” bags.

A more recent study by Lourens J. J. Meijer, et al (published 30 April 2021) showed that the Philippines is generating 4,049,670 metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) per year or 4 Billion tons per year. Considering this MPW per year, the study’s model predicts that the country’s 4,820 rivers are emitting 356,371 metric tons year−1 or 8.8% of the total generated MPW in the country. Source: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/18/eaaz5803)

“We must do our part to help in rapidly reducing the use of plastics to address what is already an escalating problem of pandemic proportion,” Ramos said.

The marine conservation group, along with other civil society alliances, served Notices to Sue to the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) in June for failing to address the country’s plastic pollution problem.

As provided in Republic Act 9003, also known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the NSWMC is mandated to prepare a list of NEAPP within a year after the law’s effectivity and updates every year thereafter. The commission is composed of 14 national government agencies and private sector representatives. The manufacture, distribution or use of non-environmentally acceptable packaging materials and the importation of consumer products packaged in non-environmentally acceptable materials are prohibited under Section 48 of RA 9003.

“More than two weeks have passed, and we are still waiting for the responses of the government agencies. If they do not provide the necessary plans of action to mitigate this problem of plastic pollution, then we will pursue all available legal remedies as provided for by the Constitution and the various laws in the country,” said Ramos.

Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.