Norway and African Marine Waste Network team up to tackle ocean plastic crisis

Dr Tony Ribbink and Norwegian Ambassador HE Trine Skymoen made the big announcement on April 24th. The partnership will see a feasibility study conducted in Nelson Mandela Bay this year with a view to rolling out long-term initiatives continent-wide from 2019.

Plastic pollution in the seas is the problem on everyone’s minds at the moment, with widespread coverage of the crisis in the world’s oceans. Recognising that urgent action needs to be taken, Norway has partnered with the African Marine Waste Network to solve the challenges facing communities in and around Africa.

The collaboration between the Scandinavian nation and the Network was announced at Nelson Mandela University on April 24th, with representatives from local and international governments, the United Nations Environment Programme, academia, industry, businesses and civil society in attendance.

The Network, which is implemented by the Kenton-based Sustainable Seas Trust (SST), was launched in 2016 to address the issue of marine waste at a pan-African level, and aims to facilitate collaboration between people and organisations across borders.

As explained in addresses by Norwegian Ambassador to South Africa HE Trine Skymoen and Director of the Network Dr Tony Ribbink, the partnership with Norway will see the Network undertaking a feasibility study in the Eastern Cape’s Nelson Mandela Bay area over the next six months.

During this period, ideas will be tested and proof of concept developed, with a view to scale up and roll out long-term initiatives from 2019 to stem the flow of marine debris from Africa and its island states into the oceans.

“Only by sharing experiences and knowledge will we be able to find sustainable solutions to global challenges,” said Ambassador Skymoen. “Dr Ribbink and his team are leading the way to saving the oceans. Norway is proud to be a sponsor of SST and a partner to the African Marine Waste Network. We sincerely hope others too will support their activities.”

Ambassador Skymoen emphasised that the oceans hold great promise for humankind, and that it is time for action to ensure blue growth for a green future.

Partnership goals

The feasibility study will involve cutting-edge research to generate much-needed data on the amount of waste in catchments, rivers and estuaries in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, deploying drones and other innovative technology to achieve this.

The Network’s researchers will also seek to measure the impact of clean-ups and the success of waste management strategies, explore methods for monitoring microplastic accumulation in marine life, and evaluate techniques to determine the amount of lost and abandoned fishing gear off the coasts – a major setback to sustainability initiatives.

The work does not stop there; the Network will also be testing new models of economic enterprises that could incentivise waste reduction and provide financial benefit to local communities. Engaging with entrepreneurs, innovators and existing businesses will be an integral element in efforts going forward.

Other key parts of the project include building capacity and boosting education and skills transfer through the creation of an education resource book and coordination of an African Waste Academy. This is to be initiated in Nelson Mandela Bay and then rolled out to the rest of Africa through webinars and training courses in different countries.

As part of the focus on education and empowerment, the Network announced the launch of a dedicated youth network that will see young environmental ambassadors engaging with their peers to help create a cleaner future.

International cooperation to solve the plastic pandemic

Plastic pollution has been shown to have a detrimental impact on human and environmental health, as well as on economic development and the livelihood of millions of people around the world. Once it enters the oceans, it can wash up anywhere in the world – even on the shores of countries thousands of kilometres away, making it a truly international issue.

Norway is committed to international ocean cooperation and is active in global, regional and bilateral forums concerned with international ocean governance and management.

In February, the country committed to being a platform partner to the UN Global Compact in the quest for creating an Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business, which will be officially launched on World Oceans Day on June 8th.

Furthermore, the Norwegian Prime Minister has recently taken the initiative to form an international High-Level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The Panel will highlight the relationship between clean and healthy oceans, sustainable use of ocean resources and economic growth and development. Policy choices needed to ensure a sustainable ocean economy will be an important part of the work.

All eyes on Africa

While marine pollution is a global issue, Africa is increasingly under the spotlight as it is predicted to become the most-littered continent by 2050, due to a doubling of plastic waste output, taking the place of Asia. If action is not taken, that same year could see the amount of plastic in the oceans outweighing the number of fish.

Current waste management procedures see almost 80 percent of waste from municipal areas flowing into the oceans via rivers and estuaries, highlighting the need for broad, lasting stop-at-source solutions.

Call to action

The African Marine Waste Network concluded the event by issuing a call for everyone to team up with them for a mega cleanup on September 15th, the International Coastal Cleanup Day driven by the international Ocean Conservancy movement.

To be held across Nelson Mandela Bay, at beaches and everywhere in between, the event is a collective effort to stop plastic waste getting into the sea. The clean-up will coincide with the Let’s Do It! World endeavour to mobilise millions of people worldwide to clean up the environment on the same day.

A separate, but related, project to that run with Norway, the cleanup is one of the Network’s major events scheduled for 2018.

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