An opportunity has arisen to contribute towards ongoing government policy and action in relation to the parlous state of marine debris, especially plastic debris, and its disastrous impact on sea life above and below the water. The Threat Abatement Plan for the Impacts of Marine Debris on Vertebrate Marine Species is being revised. The Department of Environment has released the draft Threat Abatement Plan for the Impacts of Marine Debris on Vertebrate Marine Species (2017) for public comment.
I urge all concerned to make a submission to the Department of Environment regarding this Threat Abatement Plan by the 13 April 2017 deadline.
The guidelines, draft plan and contact details for the department can be found here.
In June 2015, I initiated an Australian Senate inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution. The subsequent report, Toxic tide: The threat of marine plastic, highlights the dire need for increased action on a myriad of issues impacting our marine environment:
You can also read the key recommendations from the inquiry here.
Governments have largely failed to make a dent in the volume of plastics entering the ocean and the problem is getting worse every year. This report has recommended a suite of urgent and immediate actions to turn this around.
Foremost in my mind is the establishment of a Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) to investigate and find solutions to the scourge of plastics in our ocean. We need to create an integrated science program that examines the sources and fate of plastic pollution, the environmental and human impacts, and investigates opportunities to address the issue. Given that plastic pollution is a global problem, a Marine Plastics CRC would build technologies and skills that we can export around the world. For instance, simply developing an alternative to plastic microbeads in cosmetics would be worth tens of millions a year.
Importantly, the committee also recommended that if all states and territories have not introduced container deposit scheme legislation by 2020, the Australian Government should revisit the issue with the view to developing legislation for those jurisdictions which are yet to implement container deposit schemes. While a number of states have plans in place, it remains to be seen how encompassing and effective these will be.
The Draft Threat Abatement Plan 2017
Under the EPBC Act, the Australian Government implements the Threat Abatement Plan (TAP) as it applies to Commonwealth areas – while seeking to collaborate with state, territory and local governments and other stakeholders to implement the TAP as it applies to them.
Harmful marine debris negatively impacts substantial numbers of Australia’s marine wildlife, including many protected species of birds, turtles and marine mammals. Threat abatement plans focus on strategic approaches to reduce the impacts of key threatening processes that jeopardise the long-term survival of native species and ecological communities. This TAP specifically provides a framework for the abatement of injury and fatality to marine species caused by harmful marine debris.
A review of action under the 2009 TAP was completed in 2015. Unfortunately this review concluded that the key threatening processes have not been abated, and that the objectives of the 2009 threat abatement plan have not been met.
After considering the review of the TAP for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life, the Minister for the Environment agreed with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee’s recommendation that a variation of the threat abatement plan should be drafted.
The new draft of the Threat Abatement Plan provides the ongoing national guidance on specific action to prevent and mitigate the impacts of harmful marine debris on vertebrate marine life, through six major objectives:
- Contribute to the long-term prevention of the incidence of marine debris.
- Identify key species, ecological communities, ecosystems and locations impacted by marine debris for priority action.
- Conduct research to understand and mitigate the impacts of marine microplastic and plastic debris on marine species and ecological communities.
- Remove existing marine debris.
- Monitor the quantities, origins, types and hazardous chemical contaminants of marine debris, and assess the effectiveness of management arrangements over time for reducing marine debris.
- Increase public understanding of the causes and impacts of harmful marine debris, including microplastic and hazardous chemical contaminants in order to generate behaviour change.
For further context, please see the background paper to the 2009 Threat Abatement Plan.