Plastic in the ocean

Plastic in the ocean

Marianne Hagen*
Plastic in the ocean

Today is U.N. World Environment Day, a good occasion to remind ourselves of the growing problem of marine litter. Did you know that 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year?

In February 2017, a whale was stranded on a beach in Norway and died of exhaustion. They found 30 plastic bags in the stomach of the whale. A recent example from Spain showed a stranded whale had as much as 29 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. These are vivid examples of how plastic is threatening marine life.

The importance for coastal states like Norway and Turkey is obvious. Having lived off the oceans for centuries, we know that our future prosperity depend on our ability to manage the oceans in a sustainable way.

Norway is committed to strengthening the international framework for combatting marine litter. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has launched an international high level panel on sustainable ocean economy, and next year we will host the global Our Oceans conference.

At the international level, an important milestone was reached at the U.N. Environment Assembly last December, when all member states agreed on a vision of zero discharge of plastic waste and microplastics into the oceans.

Thus, in addition to stronger international frameworks it is important to contribute to concrete actions on the ground. Norway has therefore launched a development program to combat marine litter. As part of the World Bank’s PROBLUE Trust Fund, Norway has allocated about $13 million for the fund in 2018, and we welcome other states to support the fund.

We welcome the efforts of Turkey to combat marine litter. From 2019 onwards free plastic bags will be banned by Turkey and packaging must be at least partially made from recycled materials. Here, Turkey takes an important lead internationally.

Turkey is also ranked third among 50 countries with a high number of Blue Flag-certified beaches. Some 459 Turkish beaches have been awarded the eco-label from the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a rise from only 12 in 1994. The Blue Flag status is awarded to beaches that meet certain criteria of water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management and safety. The rise in the number of Blue Flag beaches in Turkey is an inspiration to other coastal states.

We still need to increase our actions worldwide. Bayram Oztürk, researcher at the Turkish Marine Research Foundation, has estimated that the level of plastics in Turkey’s waters is increasing at the rate of 20 percent every year. “The decision is ours: We will either leave a clean and healthy marine ecosystem for the next generations or swim in plastic wastes, trash bags and nylons,” he told the daily Hürriyet on Jan. 15.

Global teamwork and political leadership is indispensable. However, grassroots level initiatives can play a role too. In Norway, due to awareness campaigns, almost 100,000 people joined the annual “clean the ocean days” in May – a high number in a country of 5 million people.

Could such a beach-cleaning campaign be replicated in Turkey and elsewhere? Of course. Today, I will participate in a beach-cleaning activity outside Istanbul, organized by the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association (TURMEPA).

The contamination of our oceans will affect us all. We have no time to spare. During the time you spent reading this article, another truckload of plastics ended up in the world’s oceans.


*Marianne Hagen is State Secretary of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry