MARLICE 2022: How far along are we in reducing marine litter across the Mediterranean?

Under the framework of MARLICE Natura, a roundtable session organised by the Interreg Med Mediterranean Biodiversity Protection Community (MBPC) in collaboration with BeMed Islands, was held in Seville on the 19 May 2022.

Scientists, decision-makers, NGOs and civil society from across the Mediterranean and beyond, came together to check the progress of the 9 key recommendations first presented by the MBPC and BeMedIslands during MARLICE 2019. During the session participants shared their progress, experiences and perspectives, as well as learning about the many transferrable initiatives ongoing in the region.

The session kicked off with the MBPC and MedWave “setting the scene” by presenting their ongoing contributions towards a cleaner and healthier Mediterranean and reminding everyone of the nine recommendations. Following this, two roundtable discussions with a number of speakers from MBPC’s partners and projects were held.

The first roundtable focused on scientific findings about marine litter monitoring and impacts on biodiversity. Here we heard about the success of the MedBioLitter database that was established by the MBPC four years ago. The European Topic Centre on Spatial Analysis and Synthesis (ETC-UMA), responsible for the upkeep of this database, shared that although good progress has been made and information is being updated, there remain gaps, notably the limited datasets for in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean and the language limitations, with most articles available in English only.  The session went on to highlight that litter levels remain very high in the Mediterranean, and that there is an urgent need for even greater collaboration and more harmonised approaches and strategies to monitor and manage the marine litter problem.

Several MBPC partners and projects presented their ongoing initiatives that monitor marine litter and its impacts, including the use of technology such as drones for monitoring. The EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the Barcelona Convention, the OSPAR convention, the HELCOM Convention were highlighted as examples of regional and international policies that focus on the protection marine health and are supportive of marine litter monitoring and management in the Mediterranean. 

The second roundtable focused on bottom-up initiatives contributing to some of these regional policies. We heard about some of the schemes the HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants and catering) sector are carrying out, such as the Plastic-free Balearic certification scheme, a certificate awarded to businesses that meet certain indicators and multicriteria approaches towards more sustainable alternatives. Speakers went on to talk about other initiatives being carried out to improve waste management from sea-sources, such as recovery and recycling of derelict mussel nets in Greece, as well as land-based sources, for example, a reward system using a QR code in an online app “Plastic Free App” for returning beverage containers in Spain. The circular economy was also brought into focus, with studies and initiatives on production, legalities, action plans and recycling presented. The roundtable discussion ended with MedCities, an organisation that brings together local authorities from across Mediterranean shores, talking about their work in supporting local authorities to manage the litter problem and the counselling services they provide to CSR departments of businesses.

Key messages from speakers of the session. Drawing by Yorgos Konstantinou 

Overall, roundtable discussions concluded:

  1. Data is becoming harmonised and the MedBioLitter database is supporting this. In particular there have been significant advancements in harmonising monitoring tools.
  2. Recent data on litter shows alarming results that are way above the MSFD threshold.
  3. Technology can support efforts in monitoring marine litter, however there is still a long way to go with automation and machine learning algorithms.
  4. Policies such as from OSPAR in the Atlantic and IMAP Systems in the Mediterranean can help with the transfer of monitoring indicators.
  5. Countries are adopting systems for monitoring and the Barcelona Convention is moving forward to harmonise these systems, protocols and indicators for the WHOLE Mediterranean

Finally, the session concluded with a key take home message:

There is a need for us to work as community and to be better coordinated to break silos if we are to effectively deal with the marine litter problem. We must consider global, national, regional and local initiatives to develop actions and ensure the transfer good practices into our projects across the Mediterranean.

Find out more about the work of MBPC and its partners on marine litter in these two reports:

Mediterranean biodiversity and marine litter: an interaction knowledge base, 2019

Marine mega fauna and litter in the Mediterranean: overview of impacts in MedBioLitter, 2022.