The effects of plastic alone on species and ecosystems are difficult to assess, but can’t be viewed on their own anyway, warn the WWF and AWI. Where plastic pollution hotspots overlap with other threats like global warming, overfishing, overfertilization or shipping traffic, the negative effects are exacerbated. For the few survivors of endangered species, for instance, the monk seal or sperm whale in hotspots like the Mediterranean, the plastic crisis could tip the scales and become a matter of survival. It has been estimated that nearly 90 percent of all seabirds and 52 percent of all sea turtles swallow plastic. Plastic pollution is particularly hard on coral reefs and mangrove forests, which are among the most important marine ecosystems worldwide. They protect coastlines from storm surges, serve as nurseries for many fish species, and offer indispensable habitats for the preservation of biodiversity. Plastic litter is also spreading to marine protected areas, jeopardizing effective environmental protection.
“Just like the climate crisis, the flood of plastic is affecting the entire planet. The emissions can’t be removed, and regional and voluntary measures alone won’t be enough to get a grip on the crisis. Concerted global efforts are needed to stem the flood of plastic,” explains Heike Vesper. Accordingly, the WWF calls for the participating governments to issue the United Nations a mandate for negotiating a legally binding global treaty banning marine plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly in February 2022. This global treaty should address all phases of the plastic cycle and stop marine plastic pollution by 2030.
2,592 studies were assessed for the meta-study “Impacts of plastic pollution in the oceans on marine species, biodiversity and ecosystems”, which was conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research on behalf of the WWF. The goal of this meta-study – the most comprehensive of its kind on the issue to date – was to summarise the current state of knowledge concerning the effects of plastic pollution on biodiversity and make this information available to decisionmakers and the public. The report can be downloaded here.
The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) will take place in Nairobi from 28 February to 2 March. One of its goals is to decide on whether or not to mandate the development of a legally binding treaty banning marine plastic pollution.
Roughly 19-23 million metric tons of plastic litter per year find their way from the land to waters around the globe – nearly the equivalent of two lorryloads per minute.