A growing problem of marine plastic debris polluting our ocean and coastal ecosystems:
Advice to Government
Joyce Murray MP, April 2018
I recommend that the Prime Minister use Canada’s G7 Chair-ship to announce two important commitments: one regarding action to remove marine plastic debris (MPD) from Canada’s shorelines; another aimed to reduce the volume of plastic pollution entering the oceans:
- The Government of Canada (DFO) in partnership with First Nations, provinces and territories, coastal communities and civil society will begin to remove and sustainably dispose of marine plastic debris from shorelines, including remote shorelines, from coast to coast to coast.
- Assign regional coordinators for each coast to support volunteers, reduce NGO duplication of MPD collection, storage and disposal efforts, and track results.
- Dedicate funding (for example OPP Coastal Restoration Fund 2.0, or an “eco-fee” fund).
- Stimulate development of local markets for conversion/use of MPD.
- Engage partners like the Coast Guard and the Oceans Supercluster to support very remote/ High Arctic research, monitoring, and MPD removal.
- Establish a framework for measuring and reporting MPD remediation results.
- The Government of Canada (ECCC) working with FNs, provinces, territories, municipalities, industry and citizens, will ban plastic straws and beverage stir-sticks, and begin to reduce the volume of Canadian plastic waste entering the marine environment.
- Collaboratively develop a vision for MPD prevention in Canada.
- Assign a lead research agency (NSERC) to coordinate research funding and activities. For example: innovative new plastics upcycling solutions; or alternatives to polystyrene.
- Set national single-use plastic and polystyrene reduction targets and develop a strategy with P/T/FNs using the whole toolbox including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), regulation, policy, education, pricing, incentives and competitions.
- Offer our prevention and re-use technologies & innovations to high-polluting countries.
- Establish a framework for measuring and reporting MPD prevention results.
The two recommendations above flow from work I have engaged in since October 2017, in consultation with experts and community stakeholders, as summarized below:
Canada enjoys the world’s longest coastline and is responsible for protecting it.
Canadians understand that our quality of life and prosperity are deeply connected to the health of the natural environment. Our government committed to protecting Canada’s oceans, and to sustaining and restoring marine and coastal habitats. The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), and Budget 2018’s allocation of $1.3 billion for habitat protection demonstrate that we care about healthy ecosystems in our three oceans, as on land. Many activities impact the health of our oceans and coastal habitats, and Canada has implemented a range of regulatory and policy tools to manage them sustainably. However, the emerging challenge of marine plastic debris creates additional demands and responsibilities, and Canada’s G7 Chair-ship will shine a spotlight on how well we are responding.
Marine plastic debris is a growing threat to oceans, marine life, and human health.
The US Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concludes that marine debris is one of the greatest anthropogenic threats our oceans face today. Canada`s Department of Fisheries and Oceans concurs: “persistent plastic particles are probably the greatest threat to marine life”. Marine plastic debris impacts the ocean and coastal ecological web, it also threatens fisheries and the livelihoods of the over 72,000 Canadians who make their living from fishing and fishing-related activities. Plastic bottles, jugs, styrofoam, barrels, bags and nets wash up on shorelines and get pounded on rocks in the next tide or storm, breaking into tiny pieces that are ingested by organisms ranging from plankton to seabirds, salmon to marine mammals, harming their health. Plastics are even found in the flesh of supermarket seafood and in sea-salt, affecting the safety of our food supply.
New research suggests that micro-plastics (both manufactured and fragmented from larger plastic debris) are now globally distributed, regardless of source. At current rates of accumulation, researchers predict there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by weight by 2050. This presents a global threat to marine life, human health, and our marine-based economies, adding to other stresses on the oceans such as climate change, pollution and overfishing.
International efforts to date have not been enough.
Marine plastic debris is a complex international issue. Industrial, retail, consumer, shipping, and waste management habits and practices in dozens of countries generate many sources and types of plastic waste that ends up as MPD. Local, regional, provincial, state and international jurisdiction issues make solutions harder to implement. More effective action by all levels of government, and all coastal nations, is needed.
The problem is not new but it is growing. That’s in spite of many voluntary and compulsory initiatives – conventions, agreements, regulations, action plans and programs – that have been created. They range from international instruments, to national strategies, to local volunteer beach clean-ups. For example the US government`s Marine Debris Program was launched by NOAA in 2006 to coordinate and implement a national strategy in debris removal, prevention, monitoring and research.
Canada has begun to act.
Canada does not have a comparable national strategy. We have volunteers who clean their local beaches regularly. A number of NGOs mobilize volunteers to haul MPD from remote Pacific shorelines, some supported by recently expired Japanese post-tsunami funding. Most retailers now charge for plastic grocery bags. Our government joined the UN Clean Seas campaign and will ban the use of plastic microbeads this July. I joined three cabinet ministers in signing the Ocean Wise #BePlasticWise pledge at the Vancouver campaign launch in March. That same month, MP Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans represented Canada at the World Ocean Summit in Mexico.
There are certainly other positive actions not mentioned here. However, the multi-source, multi-jurisdictional nature of the problem calls for federal leadership and collaborative action. Canada needs a target, a plan and resources dedicated to tackling both the prevention and the remediation components of the MPD predicament – now. Better is always possible!
Our chance to lead by example.
Canada has the chance to ensure the rising tide of global marine plastic debris begins to recede. This June, our government will make MPD a priority for Canada’s G7 presidency, building on progress from past G7 summits, including the 2017 Workshop on Marine Litter, and the 2015 Marine Litter Action Plan.
To galvanize international collaboration Canada must commit to meaningful action at home. Last October, in discussion with Minister Leblanc and his staff, I wrote and submitted a Liberal Caucus resolution on removing MPD from remote beaches, to protect fish and fish habitat from plastic fragmentation and ingestion (Appendix 1). I spoke about it with Minister McKenna and others, and presented the resolution to the Liberal Pacific and National Caucuses where it earned significant support. MP Bernadette Jordan, an east coast champion for action on marine plastic debris, then submitted a similar resolution for discussion in the LPC Nova Scotia policy resolution process. Subsequently, I hosted a consultation in Vancouver with 10 experts from academia, NSERC, NGOs, fisheries and marine companies to further develop this paper.
Thank you to all who have helped me prepare this paper with its two practical recommendations for government action. I look forward to Canada`s exciting leadership in reducing and removing marine plastic debris, at the G7 meetings this summer, and to turning the tide on marine debris.
Member of Parliament, Vancouver Quadra
Policy Resolution submitted to the Liberal Caucus on October 20, 2017 – Protecting Coastal Habitats from Marine Debris
WHEREAS the Government of Canada (the government) seeks to position Canada as an international leader in protecting our coastal habitats.
WHEREAS Canada has the longest coastline in the world.
WHEREAS an estimated 1.4 billion pounds of plastic entering the world’s oceans annually.
WHEREAS according to the DFO “persistent plastic particles are probably the greatest threat to marine life”.
WHEREAS plastic debris in the littoral zone breaks down into smaller pieces then enters the food chain, affecting the safety and security of our food supply and has been found in the flesh of supermarket seafood.[10
WHEREAS the removal of debris in remote and rugged shoreline habitats requires expensive equipment such as barges or helicopters that are beyond the capability of volunteer organizations.
WHEREAS other countries’ governments have implemented programs that take responsibility for the clean-up of marine habitats, from which best practices can be applied.
BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Canada shall develop and implement a results based strategy to remove debris from Canada’s shores and beaches (littoral zones) in line with G20 commitments and in collaboration with other orders of government, environmental stewardship groups and all Canadians.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this strategy should work with industry partners, especially in waste management, fishing, textiles and shipping, to prevent, reduce and clean up marine debris produced by these sectors.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that marine debris should be disposed of in a manner that does not further contribute to pollution.
Office of Joyce Murray, M.P.
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, http://www.noaa.gov/resource-collections/ocean-pollution
 The Littoral zone is from the high watermark to the depth where sunlight penetrates all the way to the ocean floor and allows plans to grow. This is the area where plastic breaks down the most.
 Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection: Sources, fate and effects of micro-plastics in the marine environment – a global assessment