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Stemming the Plastic Tide: How Latin America Is Combating Marine Debris

By June 20, 2018No Comments

Garbage In Our Oceans

Breaking News: A plastic tsunami has hit the shores of Rio de Janeiro. It sounds like the plot of a bad disaster movie, doesn’t it? Yet Latin America is under attack from wave after wave of garbage, much of it plastic. The region is far from one the world’s biggest plastic producer (it creates just five percent), but it imports billions of tons annually for repurposing. And some of that ends up as marine debris.

Of course, it’s not just Latin America. Every major ocean basin has patches of garbage, again mostly plastic, swirling around. (One of these floats in the Pacific between Chile and Peru.) This kills marine life, destroys beaches, and devastates coastal economies. The good news is countries such as Brazil and Peru are taking steps to reverse the trend.

Brazil Makes Marine Conservation Fun

Brazil’s 9,000 kilometers of Atlantic coastline include Copa Cabana and Ipanema. But it’s also home to plastic bags, bottle caps, straws, and other debris, which represent the highest percentage of hazardous materials for marine life.

To raise awareness, AquaRío, an aquarium dedicated to environmental education and biodiversity conservation opened in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. It’s home to roughly 3,000 animals of 350 different species, making it the largest aquarium in South America. AquaRío has also partnered with universities and research centers such as the Department of Marine Biology of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) to help fund studies in captive breeding of endangered species along with other areas of research of marine life.

Less than a year after openening, it hosted the launch ceremony for the UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign. The goal? Eliminate the primary sources of marine debris (which can take up to 500 years to breakdown) by 2022.

“Brazil’s support for this campaign is crucial. It underscores the size of the problem and the scale of the response that we need to see,” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. “We need more of the same political leadership – the kind that sends a very clear message: we cannot afford to continue to turn our oceans into a sea of waste.”

Saving Peru’s Beaches Towns

Peru, another participant in the Clean Seas campaign, boasts a 3,000-kilometer Pacific coastline and some of the world’s most nutrient-rich waters. Yet a 2017 Marine Institute of Peru report found 473 microplastic fragments per square meter on a beach in Callao. Unsurprisingly, that same year “La Niña” flooded its shores, leaving tons of waste in its wake.

“Marquez Beach in Callao was literally covered in garbage for three kilometers,” Ursula Carrascal, project coordinator at VIDA, a Callao-based nonprofit, told IPS News. “Many beaches are now gone. Fishing boats and artisanal fisherman are affected by the damage to their nets or engines caused by plastic.”

Since 1998, VIDA’s staff and volunteers have collected roughly 6,000 tons of debris, half of which is plastic. The organization has also created an innovative model of waste management that has inspired Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. By coordinating with the waste management industry, VIDA promotes the recycling of waste collected during coastal cleanups.

Isolated Environmental Initiatives Aren’t Enough

Yet Brazil and Peru aren’t alone in their quest to save the oceans. Several Latin American and Caribbean countries have either banned or heavily taxed the use of plastic bags to lessen their impact. However, models of plastic production and consumption must change in order to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in the oceans.

“Greater efforts and investment in recycling technology are needed to solve the plastic problem. In Peru, much of the plastic waste collected, although it could be 100 percent recycled, is not recycled because there are no recycling plants, due to lack of knowledge or lack of adequate technology,” Carrascal told IPS News.

Clean oceans and the conversation of marine life will take a worldwide collective effort if we want to preserve them for generations to come.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

Jennifer Keck

Author Jennifer Keck

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