Thursday, March 24th, 2011

SPI and the 5th Annual International Marine Debris Conference

This week I am representing SPI in the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations Environment Programme co-organized the event, which brings together international marine debris researchers, natural resource managers, policy makers, industry representatives, and the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

This conference highlights research advances, allows sharing of strategies and best practices to assess, reduce, and prevent the impacts of marine debris, and provides an opportunity for the development of specific multi-country strategies.  The event includes hundreds of speakers with varying opinions.  So far, not every speaker or attendee has agreed at all times; however, I am finding a lot of value in such a diverse discussion.

As I’ve written about in a previous blog post, marine debris is an issue affecting all of us.  Besides listening to a range of speakers who were very passionate about this topic, I had an opportunity to present during a panel entitled “Plastic Recovery for a Trash-Free Ocean” on SPI’s own marine debris initiative, Operation Clean Sweep (OCS).  The OCS program includes approximately 200 companies that have pledged to take necessary management steps to ensure that spilled resin pellets do not make their way to local waterways or the ocean.  Many attendees were not aware of the OCS program, so I had an excellent opportunity to talk with them about the program, its successes and activities to expand the program globally.  Last year the British Plastics Federation became the first international program partner and additional discussions are underway with other plastics associations.

At the end of each talk the speaker was asked to recommend critical actions needed to reduce marine debris in the next decade.  Here is what I proposed:

  1.  Increase participation in OCS – the number of companies participating is great but let’s continue to get more companies involved.
  2. Foster partnership – marine debris isn’t something that government alone or industry alone or NGOs alone can combat.  We must find a way to work together to foster partnership and to address marine debris.
  3. Go global and coordinate efforts – marine debris isn’t an issue impacting just one country – it impacts all of us around the globe.  Let’s coordinate our global efforts to combat this issue.

As Henry Ford has stated, “coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”  The conference has brought us together.  Now we must find a way to collectively keep together and to work together to implement solutions to tackle the critical issue of marine debris.

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