Counting the cost of marine debris

  Last updated June 22, 2020 at 12:17 pm


A new report has highlighted the staggering multi-billion-dollar cost of marine debris on the Asia-Pacific region that will only grow unless swift action is taken.

marine debris_ocean pollution_rubbish

A boy collecting rubbish on a beach in Indonesia. Credit: Credit: Yogie Prathama/EyeEm/Getty Images

Why This Matters: Without action, the impact of marine debris is only going to get worse.

Marine debris will have cost countries in the Asia-Pacific region AU$313 billion by 2050, according to a new report, and even more if the volume entering the ocean accelerates.

Prepared for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) by the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), it reveals the economic cost was $15.7 billion in 2015, an eight-fold increase in just six years.

This includes the costs to industries including fisheries and aquaculture, shipping and transport, and tourism, but does not include money spent on cleaning up the debris or the costs to the environment, which are unknown.

“The cost of marine debris – to individuals, to communities and to national economies – is significant and is growing,” says marine economist Alistair McIlgorm, who led the research.

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“It is a $300 billion hit to the economies of the 21 APEC countries from now to 2050, so we can’t sit back and do nothing.”

Marine debris lands a heavy blow on tourism

Marine debris includes plastic and other litter, discarded and lost fishing equipment, industrial rubbish and other human-created waste that enters the seas and oceans. The report counts the indirect costs as well as the direct costs.

“With tourism it’s not just the cost of picking up the material on the beach, for example; it’s the lost income for operators in the area when people hear about the marine debris and decide to take their holiday somewhere else,” says McIlgorm.

marine debris_ocean pollution_rubbish

A beach trashed with marine debris isn’t exactly the white sand paradise beach goers look forward to. Credit: s0ulsurfing – Jason Swain/Getty Images

The report calculated that the 2015 cost to tourism was $9.29 billion, shipping and transport $4.26 billion, and fishing and aquaculture $2.13 billion.

“Floating freight containers are a navigational risk to coastal and ocean shipping, and derelict fishing gear and ropes can represent an entanglement threat to vessels, especially smaller vessels,” the authors of the report write.

“There are records of wrecked propeller shafts, stern gear and flexible couplings on engines, putting vessels out of operation with economic losses and risk of injury.”

Targeted interventions could create effective change

The report proposes a range of policy and legislative responses, including implementing technical litter traps, addressing marine debris hot spots; national waste strategies and economic incentives, and adopting Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.

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“The good news is, if you look at the costs and benefits of marine debris, many of the actions we can take have reasonably low cost to deliver a high benefit,” McIlgorm says.

“For example, there are a lot of major urban marine debris hot spots, particularly in the Southeast Asian area, where targeted interventions really would make sense.“It’s something we should be able to manage a lot better. Ideally, prevention is better than clean up.”

ANCORS is based at the University of Wollongong. The report was prepared for APEC’s Oceans and Fisheries Working Group and funded by the US Department of State.

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