Cormorant nest © Catherine Hobbs

Revitalising the ocean through collective action on plastics

Pacific Plastic: Science to Solutions is on a collective mission to protect marine biodiversity and livelihoods by reducing plastic leakage in the South-Eastern (SE) Pacific region. In the SE Pacific, the plastic tide has been rising with an increasing abundance of shoreline and floating litter, a symptom of poor waste management in urban areas transported by rivers, recreational and tourism activities on the shore, and aquaculture and fisheries activities.  

Plastic pollution has profound impacts environmentally and socio-economically. ‘Plastic threatens ocean health, the health of marine species, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change’ (IUCN, 2022). The oceans provide us with between 50-70% of the oxygen we breathe and are an important source of food for coastal communities in the Eastern Pacific. 

 The Galapagos is interconnected with other regions, such as Panama, Columbia, and Peru… It is the protein source of this part of America. People from other places… come to catch this wealth and take it away since in other parts of the world such wealth [commercial fishing stocks] has been depleted…”  – Alberto Andrade, Frente Insular. 

Beach clean of remote location © CI, DPNG & GCT

Ocean communities revitalise the ocean in diverse ways because the ocean isn’t just a resource for those who depend on it – it’s a way of life, particularly for coastal communities where the ocean hugs the shore and intertwines with riverine and mangrove habitats. But the coastal communities who spend time cleaning up the continuing plastics spill are not seeing the results needed to fully restore the diverse habitats that support their livelihoods.  

Here we always collect hundreds of bottles and tons of trash, this deeply affects us because we deploy all our strength to mitigate the problem. But there is always more [plastic]… We put all our energy in those clean-ups, but the results are not good enough” – Mayra Hernandez.

What both Alberto and Mayra have highlighted is the need for collective action on plastics, across multiple sectors rooted in the knowledge of local people who live with the impacts of plastic. Collective action on plastics can be implemented in a variety of ways. It could be reducing your plastic consumption through using reusable cups, bottles & cutlery. Collective action could be finding a local community clean where you can litter pick with other concerned members of the community which in turn can help solidify your connection to both those around you and the precious environments you want to protect.  

It is important to stress that collective action must not rely on local communities alone, it must come from the top – people live busy lives with conflicting demands, and so a huge part of change on plastics must come by reducing the flow and production of plastics. Collective multidisciplinary action includes supporting grassroots communities, high quality science, practical solutions for management and policy will help us drive the demand for a circular economy that works for both people and the planet. 

Stopping the flow of plastics revitalises the ocean, which supports the local livelihoods that are so dependent on healthy marine ecosystems. Healthy marine ecosystems in turn support climate resilience, in turn protecting local people’s wellbeing as they know that their futures are being supported by the environments they are reliant on, supporting the UN’s Ocean Decade mission to transform “ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our ocean”. 

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