Marine litter in the Ocean

UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme reminds of the deadly impact of Marine litter in the Ocean in recognition of World Oceans Day

June 8th was World Oceans Day, designated by the United Nations as a global day to highlight the value of our oceans. We often don’t realize the significance of our oceans though they cover over 70% of the earth’s surface, support humankind, the greatest biodiversity on the planet, and, regulate the world’s climate.

The theme for World Oceans Day 2016 was "Healthy Oceans - Healthy Planet" and by extension a Healthy Planet means Healthy People.  One of the greatest threats to the oceans and the planet is marine litter, which is defined as “any manufactured or processed solid waste material that enters the marine environment from any source.” 

Marine litter consists of a wide range of materials the majority in the form of plastics which can persist in the marine environment for many years. Plastics deteriorate into tiny fragments known as microplastics with other elements and added sun exposure causing problems as they enter the food chain, posing threats to marine life, coral reefs, coastal ecosystems, and human health.

It is one of the most widespread and pervasive pollution problems affecting the world’s valuable natural resources: our oceans, coral reefs, fisheries, and marine wildlife. It is negatively impacting the livelihoods of more than 350 million people worldwide and costing $13 billion annually in damage to marine ecosystems.  

In the Wider Caribbean region (WCR), up to 80% of marine litter comes from land-based sources of solid waste and approximately 65% of that waste is disposed of in open dumps, inland waterways, coastal water bodies, or directly into the Caribbean Sea.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) lead efforts to develop the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment (GPA), which was adopted in 1995.  This is the only global intergovernmental mechanism to guide the protection of the marine environment from land based sources of pollution. In its efforts to curb marine debris, the GPA initiated the development of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML).

Work under the GPA is being facilitated at the regional level through the network of UNEP’s Regional Seas Programmes. The UNEP-Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP CEP) has been at the forefront of these efforts in the Wider Caribbean Region and is the co-host of a Regional Platform for Marine Litter in collaboration with the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI). The main activities of this regional node are resource mobilization, monitoring and assessment, and awareness-raising. 

Lorna Inniss, the Coordinator of UNEP CEP stated that “For the Caribbean Small Island States with economies that are heavily dependent on coastal tourism, addressing the issue of marine litter is an imperative, not an option.”

UNEP CEP has worked to reduce pollution in the Caribbean region for more than 30 years since its establishment in 1983.  The first regional pollution control agreement to be established after the GPA Declaration in 1995 was the Protocol on Pollution from Land based Sources and Activities (LBS), which focuses on land based pollution, and in particular marine debris, adopted in 1999.   The LBS Protocol is an important framework for combating solid waste and marine litter and focuses on assisting member states for the control, prevention and reduction of pollution of the Caribbean Sea.

UNEP CEP through its Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution (AMEP) subprogramme has been involved in several regional initiatives and activities using an integrated solid waste management approach. Effective management for the reduction of marine litter is done through research, documentation, and monitoring to assess the types, amounts and sources of marine litter. The recently updated Caribbean Regional Action Plan for Marine Litter (RAPMaLi), which was launched on World Oceans Day provides background information on the institutional, legal and policy arrangements for the management of marine litter and recommendations on specific actions needed to address this pollution challenge.

As an integrated programme, UNEP CEP also supports countries in meeting their conservation goals by strengthening marine protected areas and protecting threatened species through its subprogramme on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW).

Ms. Inniss, further stated that the emerging links between marine plastics and human health require urgent action, on the part of the international community, as well as at the national and community levels.

In response, the Trash Free Partnership - International was developed and launched at the ‘Our Oceans Conference’ in Chile last year through a joint collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the UNEP CEP and the United States Peace Corps.  The partnership will support joint actions involving local communities, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to help address solid waste management and reduce the amount of trash entering Caribbean waters.  Jamaica and Panama have been selected as initial pilot countries to implement the Trash Free Waters approach.


For this year’s World Oceans Day, UNEP CEP collaborated with the Institute of Caribbean Studies to launch the third annual Caribbean Sea Fan Festival online on June 8 with the support of Caribvision.  This both raised awareness and showcased the work of many partners, agencies, community and non-governmental organizations throughout the Region working on ocean-related projects and activities.

In addition, several new publications highlighting best practices and experiences from the development and implementation of ocean related projects in the Caribbean were published to commemorate World Oceans Day.  Of particular interest will be information on the Sargassum influx, and the impacts of microplastics and ocean acidification on coastal and marine resources.  All of these resources are available from the UNEP CEP Website at

At the National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA) Open Day and Environmental Fair on June 3, 2016, visitors to the UNEP CEP booth made pledges to make personal actions geared to preserve our ocean and marine life in commemoration of World Oceans Day.  Let us remember that we need to eliminate marine litter and work together to support a healthy ocean which benefits all humans, plants and animals that rely on it.

For further information on UNEP CEP and its subprogrammes, please contact, Mr. Christopher Corbin, Programme Officer for AMEP/CETA subprogrammes,  at UNEP CEP by telephone: 1(876) 922-9267-9,Fax:1(876)922-9292, Email:, feel free to visit the website at: