Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Chile: EPA Launches International Marine Litter Initiative

By Jane Nishida

The world’s oceans are facing many serious environmental challenges that threaten the health of all marine life, our food security, and the air that we breathe. Land-based sources of pollution, such as marine litter, wastewater, and nutrient runoff, contribute to the deterioration of our coastal waters, habitats, and oceans. Ocean acidification, as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions, also threatens food chains and causes coral bleaching, which destroys valuable habitats for marine life. It is imperative that we work to find solutions to these problems and encourage others to take action that helps restore the health of our oceans.

Jane Nishida with Easter Island tribal leaders in traditional dress.

Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Jane Nishida with tribal leaders from Easter Island at the Our Ocean II Conference last week.

I joined Secretary Kerry and other distinguished experts at the Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Valparaiso, Chile the week of October 5. This conference brought together different government, policy, science, and advocacy leaders to raise awareness of the many problems affecting the global marine environment, including marine pollution, ocean acidification, sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, and issues affecting local communities. Governments, international organizations, and NGOs committed to take actions that will address specific marine problems. Marine litter, in particular plastics, is a growing global problem with 8 tons of plastic entering the ocean annually – that is 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.

I was proud to be able to announce a new joint partnership between EPA, the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Environment Program , and the Peace Corps  to expand our Trash Free Waters strategy to the wider Caribbean region to help reduce land-based sources of marine debris. Trash Free Waters is a collaborative, stakeholder-based approach to mitigate marine litter by using regional and local strategies that reduces and prevents the amount of trash entering the waterways, and ultimately our oceans.

With EPA as the national technical focal point to the Land Based Sources Protocol to the Cartagena Convention in the wider Caribbean, this partnership will help national governments take action to prevent trash from reaching their waters. Peace Corps Volunteers will complement this strategy by providing support from on-the-ground projects in local communities that will help reduce litter and plastic trash from entering waterways and the ocean.

Jamaica and Panama will be the first countries to pilot a Trash Free Waters program to address marine litter in the wider Caribbean.  I met with the Foreign Ministers of Jamaica and Panama who were enthusiastic and noted the importance of this program in raising public awareness to the problem of marine debris. We are also working with the Peace Corps in both countries to help incorporate the Trash Free Waters approach into their programs so that the volunteers will be able to develop marine litter reduction and prevention projects in local communities.  We hope to be able to share success stories of our initial pilot work in Jamaica and Panama at the next Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC in 2016. Our Trash Free Waters is playing an important role in getting trash out of our waterways and our oceans in the U.S. and globally.

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