A report has revealed the dramatic impact of marine pollution on migratory species such as dolphins, whales, sea birds and turtles.
The report, “Migratory Species, Marine Debris and its Management”, is one of several on the impact of marine debris on migratory marine species and ways to address this growing threat that are being presented at a major international wildlife conference in Quito, Ecuador this week.
The reports are being presented to governments at the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), being held in Quito from Nov. 4-9.
The CMS aims to conserve terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty concluded under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Millions of marine animals including migratory whales, dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, seals, dugongs, sharks and rays which often cover vast distances across the world’s oceans are increasingly being injured or even killed by ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris.
“The international community must respond to the growing problem of marine debris and take decisive action to reduce the threat marine debris is posing to many migratory species and to the ecological balance of our oceans as a whole,” said CMS Executive Secretary, Bradnee Chambers.
In the reports, scientists recommend that preventing waste from reaching the marine environment is likely to be one of the most effective ways to address this problem. Countries will consider improving effective waste management on land and to take measures to prevent commercial shipping operators from disposing of garbage at sea.
The reports says that 192 species, comprising 45 per cent of marine mammals including 58 per cent of all seals, 21 per cent of seabirds and all species of sea turtles have been shown to be affected by entanglement.
Ingestion has proven to be even more dangerous, as 26 per cent of all marine mammals, 38 per cent of seabirds and 86 per cent of all turtle species die after swallowing marine debris.
Animals might drown or suffer from internal bleeding upon ingestion of sharp items. Marine debris can also have an impact on the animal’s ability to feed due to reduced volume in its stomach, which leads to starvation. Also, disease can arise when the immune system is permanently damaged.
Boyan Slat, who raised more than US$ 2 million as founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, addressed delegates at the opening of the COP.
“In the past few decades, oceanic plastic pollution has turned into a major economic, ecological and human health threat. Like migratory species, plastic pollution doesn’t respect borders. Hence, global collaboration on the adoption of technological and legislative solutions is urgently needed,” he said.
The reports say that awareness and action campaigns concerning marine debris can be powerful tools to motivate the public to be part of the solution and support any new economic instruments or regulatory measures.
Targeted campaigns to highlight the impact of marine debris on migratory species can bring about a behavioural change, the reports say.