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Sixth International Marine Debris Conference

6IMDCSocialMediaImageHeidi Taylor, Tangaroa Blue Managing Director, recently attended the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference, in San Diego, 12–16 March. These conferences are held infrequently — the last was in Hawaii in 2011. Heidi gave two presentations, one on citizen science programs and one on the Australian Marine Debris Initiative being a national marine debris hub. Some interesting presentations and discussions were had over the course of the week including the following.

Chelsea Rochman discussed research on mice demonstrating that microplastics of particular sizes can pass from the gut into other tissue. Much research has been conducted on aquatic animals but this research on mammals could have implications for human health. Microplastic particles with two diameters (5 μm and 20 μm) were used and the particles were found in organs including the liver and kidneys as well as the gut. Significantly higher levels of the 5 μm particles were found in the kidney and gut while the liver contained relatively more of the 20 μm sized particles. The results suggest ingestion of microplastics could cause disruptions to energy and lipid metabolism, induce oxidative stress, and include neurotoxic responses.
Related article: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340

Cora Ball• Microfibres have been found to be the most numerous type of microplastic in waterways. Some new products to capture microfibres released during washing are in development or already available. These include the Cora Ball, the design of which is inspired by coral, and a mesh bag to contain microfibres, called The Guppy FriendLint filters are already available to be retro-fitted to washing machines and Samsung has a washing machine with a filter already included. Recent research has found a new clothing item (e.g. a fleece) could potentially shed up to 80% of the fibres it is going to lose in the first wash. More research on this is required, but it could lead to a requirement where clothes manufacturers would be responsible for the first wash of an item in controlled conditions.

• The American Chemistry Council discussed past, present and projected future rates of plastic production, which will increase significantly over the next few decades. By 1950 the amount of plastic already produced was around 2 million metric tonnes; by 2017, around 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic had been produced. Alarmingly, the projected amount of plastic produced by 2050 is 34 billion metric tonnes: more than four times the amount already produced. Given this prediction and the problem marine debris already presents, the war on single-use plastic items should start immediately.

HS• Unfortunately Australia has so far failed to meet the recommendations of of the Honolulu Strategy (released at the International Marine Debris Conference in 2011). The goals of the strategy included reducing both the amount and impact of sources of marine debris, both land-based and sea-based (including solid waste, lost cargo, abandoned vessels and abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear). The Honolulu Strategy also aims to reduce the amount and impact of accumulated marine debris on shorelines, in benthic habitats, and in pelagic waters. Many countries have started creating and implementing national marine debris action plans, but to date Australia has not. With the projected increase in plastic production as well as the extent and harm done by existing marine debris, it is high time for Australia to develop an action plan to meet its commitment to the Honolulu Strategy. 

• Other than for insurance ships aren’t required to report containers lost at sea. Estimates for the number of containers lost each year vary between 600 and 10 000 containers. Some places, e.g. Alaska, get a vast quantity of items washing up from lost containers that end up rusting open to release their cargo. There was a discussion on the need to have the International Maritime Organisation as a regulatory place for all lost containers to be reported, and shipping companies to be charged for the clean-up effort, which is in many cases done by community members and organisations, and local/state government agencies.

6IMDC Hub• A great outcome of the conference was the creation of a framework linking national hubs together to help address international source reduction plans through collaboration and sharing of ideas and activities undertaken. Tangaroa Blue will be the Australian hub. Other countries to be involved include the African regional hub, Canada, the USA, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Portugal, with an invitation to other hubs to join the network.

• And of course, what would the conference be without our favourite plastic free ambassador Jack Johnson talking how he is changing the way artists tour in regards to single-use plastics and waste. And we always love to hear him sing!

More information about the conference is at: http://internationalmarinedebrisconference.org/ and artist Pam Longobardi has also written a great article about her reflections from the 6IMDC.