(Draft for discussion)
A growing problem of marine plastic debris polluting our oceans and coastal ecosystems:
The Case for Action
Joyce Murray MP, April 19, 2018
A. Protecting the World’s longest Coastline
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 marine life and restoring or sustaining its marine and coastal habitat. Our $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), and Budget 2018’s allocation of $1.3 billion for habitat protection demonstrate this commitment to healthy ecosystems in our three oceans, enjoying the world`s longest coastline. Despite these investments, Canada can do more to show international leadership in preventing and remediating the growing problem of marine debris, especially plastics.
B. Marine Debris is a growing threat to oceans, coastal ecosystems 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”. Ocean plastic impacts the ocean and coastal ecological web; it also affects 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 disrupt the health and survival of organisms from plankton to seabirds, salmon to marine mammals. Plastics are even affecting the safety of our food supply, having been found in the flesh of supermarket seafood and sea-salt.
New research suggests that micro-plastics (both manufactured and fragmented from larger plastics debris) are now globally distributed, ingested by a wide range of marine and avian organisms, and cause damage. 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 economies that adds to other stresses on the oceans and requires effective international action by all levels of all governments.
C. International efforts to date have not been enough
Marine plastic debris is a complex international issue. Industrial, retail, consumer, and waste management habits and practices in hundreds of countries generate many sources and types of plastic debris that ends up circulating and breaking down in the world`s oceans and on beaches everywhere. Local regional, provincial, state and international jurisdiction issues make solutions hard to implement.
The problem is not new but it is growing. Over the past several decades a large number of voluntary and compulsory initiatives – conventions, agreements, regulations, action plans and programs – 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, launched by NOAA in 2006, coordinates and implement a national strategy of effort in debris removal, prevention, monitoring and research.
Tens of thousands of Canadian volunteers clean their local beaches regularly. A number of NGOs mobilize volunteer crews to remove debris from remote Pacific Coast shorelines, most of them supported by recently expired Japanese post-tsunami funding. Citizen groups advocate for banning ubiquitous single-use plastics like plastic straws and grocery bags. Our government joined the United Nations Clean Seas campaign. This past March three cabinet ministers demonstrated Canada`s commitment by signing the Ocean Wise #BePlasticWise pledge, for the Campaign launch in Vancouver I attended on behalf of the government. That same month, MP Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans represented out government at the World Ocean Summit in Mexico.
There are certainly other positive governmental activities not mentioned here. However, the complex, multi-department, multi-jurisdictional character of this issue has stopped previous governments from acting decisively. Canada has yet to develop a strategy, or make funding available for tackling our share of either the prevention or the remediation components of the marine plastics debris predicament. The NGOs I have spoken have all been unsuccessful in their applications for federal support for marine debris removal projects. Better is always possible!
D. Canada can Lead by Example
Canada has an opportunity to step up and be an important part of the solution. This June, our government will make ocean plastic debris a priority for Canada’s G7 presidency . We can build on progress at past G7 summits, including the 2017 Workshop on Marine Litter, and the 2015 Marine Litter Action Plan.
To galvanize international collaboration Canada must itself commit to implement meaningful action.
Last October, in discussion with Minister Leblanc and his staff, I wrote and submitted a Liberal Caucus resolution on removing marine plastic debris from remote beaches, to protect fish and fish habitat from plastics fragmentation and ingestion (Annex 1). I spoke about it with Minister McKenna and others, and presented the resolution to Pacific and to National Caucus where it earned enough votes to score in the top third of caucus resolutions. MP Bernadette Jordan, an east coast champion for action on marine plastic debris, then successfully stewarded a substantially similar resolution through the LPCNS policy resolution process. Subsequently, I hosted a consultation in Vancouver with 10 experts from academia, NSERC, NGOs, fishers and mariners to further develop this recommendation to government.
E. I propose that the Prime Minister use our G7 Chair-ship to make two public and easy to understand announcements:
1. That the Government of Canada (DFO) announce a new program to partner with First Nations, coastal communities and civil society to remove marine plastic debris from remote shorelines from coast to coast to coast, and dispose of it sustainability.
• Assign regional coordinators for each coast to support volunteers, reduce NGO duplication of collection, storage and disposal efforts, and achieve targets.
• Dedicate funding (for example OPP Coastal Restoration Fund 2.0, or an “eco-fee” fund).
• Stimulate development of local markets for conversion/use of plastic debris.
• Engage Coast Guard & Oceans Supercluster to support very remote/ High Arctic research, monitoring, and plastic debris removal.
• Establish measureable goals and framework for reporting debris removal results.
2. That the Government of Canada (ECCC) announce our commitment to ban plastic straws in Canada and measurably reduce the volume of Canadian plastic waste entering the marine environment, working with FNs, provinces, territories, municipalities, industry and citizens.
• Collaboratively develop a Marine Plastic Debris Reduction Strategy for Canada.
• Assign a lead research agency (NSERC?) to collate research funding and activities. For example developing innovative new plastics upcycling solutions and options.
• Set national single-use plastics reduction targets and develop a strategy with P/T/FNs using the whole toolbox (Extended Producer Responsibility, regulation, policy, education, pricing, incentives and competitions).
• Work toward a ban and removal of styrofoam in the marine environment.
• Transfer prevention and up-cycling technologies and innovations to high-polluting countries.
It is my intention to continue consulting with my MP colleagues and Parliamentary Secretaries to further develop this draft recommendation.
I look forward to discussing this proposal with you and the appropriate PMO Policy Advisors, to determine how I can best support you in Canada`s exciting leadership opportunity for reducing ocean plastic debris, at the G-7 meetings this summer .