Research is on to estimate the quantity of marine plastic litter. There is no creditable nor dependable data to drive informed decision on handling marine litter.
By Aditi Angelina Patro
India is set to undertake its first proper scientific estimation of the extent of marine litter, over 60 years after Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring raised concern about plastic debris in the oceans.
A project to monitor the temporal and spatial distribution of marine litter along Indian coasts and adjacent seas has been initiated in a joint partnership between the German development agency, GIZ, and the ministry of environment and forests the ministry of housing and urban affairs.
The estimation of quantity is part of the Indo-German collaboration, “Circular Economy Solutions Preventing Marine Litter in Ecosystems” project. It will develop and use digital technologies to quantify and track marine litter, monitor leakages in the selected ecosystems, and work on implementing extended producer responsibilities.
Yet, despite ambitious goals to reduce marine plastic pollution, work to combat plastics reaching the oceans are mere end of pipe measures, mainly in the form of beach clean-ups.
The dearth of accurate data on plastic waste, in particular marine litter, has been a foremost reason.
This is a first step towards the formulation of a national policy on marine debris that threatens ecosystems and affects public health around the globe.
Currently, there is a shortage of data on marine litter sources, pathways, transport processes, and quantification of the amount of litter entering the marine environment.
The government had announced its intent to phase out single use plastics by 2022.
Plastics, river, seas
The study will estimate the level of contamination to understand the effect of different types of polymers (micro-plastics) on fisheries and other forms of marine life.
Whilst accurate data on plastic waste and marine litter in particular is largely unavailable, the extent of the menace is visible in the form of illegal landfills, plastic piles along roadsides, rivers and beaches, and clogged drainage systems.
Anywhere between 15 and 20 per cent of all plastics enter oceans via riverine ecosystems. 90 per cent of these are contributed by 10 of the world’s most polluting rivers, including Ganga and Brahmaputra.
About 40 per cent of the plastic waste generated remains uncollected. Three of the ten rivers transporting most of the world’s plastic waste to the oceans are located in India. The plastics in these rivers come from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Research conducted so far indicates that marine litter is spread along the entire water column and sediment, and high quantities are noticed during monsoon due to its spread into coastal water through creeks, rivers and estuaries by rainwater.