Oceans have improved on old contaminants …

… but are worse on every other score

Oceans have improved on old contaminants ... 1
Contamination Garbage Environment Waste Plastic

The Diario carries an unusually long story online today reporting that whilst the world’s oceans and seas have improved on old contaminants they have worsened on everything from plastic accumulation to drugs found in the water, warns a Portuguese expert in marine resource contamination.

Maria João Bebianno, director of the Center for Marine and Environmental Research at the University of Algarve and the only Portuguese expert in the group of 25 UN experts preparing a global ocean condition assessment, told press agency Lusa that there have been measures “that have improved some old contaminants” and there is a greater knowledge in several areas “ especially in water composition, physical, chemical and biological composition”.

“Where [the state of the oceans] has gotten worse is everything else, there is great concern. And it gets worse, precisely because there is more data today, more knowledge”, argued the professor with a doctorate in ecotoxicology.

With advances in technology and research resources, scientists working with submersible vehicles “have made new and surprising discoveries when looking for other things related to the biological or natural resources,” he said. “We have a plastic bag detected in the Mariana Trench [the deepest location in the Pacific Ocean] at 11,000 metres. And other things, Coke cans remain intact at that depth”.

If Maria João Bebianno praises the “excellent work done in Europe over the last 40 years” that has resulted in improvements in the environmental component of older contaminants, he is critical of the situation elsewhere on the planet. “The Chinese do nothing and environmental aggression from India to China is all reflected here. And not only is the problem of plastics, there are other things more worrying than plastics, such as drugs, which are not seen”, he warned.

The scientist stressed that “social development has major implications for the oceans” and gave the example of drugs that reach the sea “with the same effect they have on people and some become even more toxic substances”. “We have been studying, for example, the impact of cancer drugs, which have the same effects on the sea as people taking them on land, and will destroy good cells as well as bad cells”, describing that results in a kind of forced chemotherapy for fish and other marine organisms.

Ocean contamination also includes toiletries, from toothpaste, shaving foams and perfumes, among others that “treatment plants do not treat”, except for those in Sweden. “And the production of perfumes is the only sector where the chemical composition of the aroma is not known. It’s a secret, it’s like trying to know the formula of Coca-Cola, you can not understand what contains a brand perfume”, he exemplified.

The solution, he noted, is not just about getting all countries to agree on the steps to be taken and the decisions that have to be made: “New technologies on land are needed to keep contaminants out of the sea. And then we have a forerunner country, Sweden, which has new [waste] treatment systems and they are treating things that others don’t. But this alone, isolated, will not solve anything, because the water moves, the problem is this” illustrated the expert. In ocean contamination, there are also areas of the planet where there is “a huge data and information hole” such as around the African continent. 

The University of Algarve researcher co-ordinates two of the 31 chapters of the second global ocean state assessment – one on solid wastes, such as plastics and other materials, “deliberately” dumped into the sea, and another on contaminants that reach the ocean from land or sea from the atmosphere – the results of which will be announced in Lisbon in June 2020 at the United Nations Oceans Conference dedicated to the sustainable development of the seas and marine resources.

The first evaluation was completed in 2016, reporting on data collected by 2010 and resulted in a three-kilo, 1,000-page document and the collaboration of nearly half a thousand scientists.

The second edition compiles data gathered over the last 10 years “as early as 2019 and aims to demonstrate what happened after the first evaluation,” said Maria João Bebiano.

A third assessment is in preparation for the period 2021-2030, during the UN Ocean Science Decade for Sustainable Development.

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