Southeast Asia has a serious marine trash and pollution problem. Did you know that of the 10 countries responsible for generating the most marine debris, 5 are Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia? Thailand, for example, produces 0.41 million tons of marine debris per year. This disregard for our environment must stop before we cause irreparable damage to marine habitats and marine life within the region.
Thankfully, this topic is currently hot news within the ASEAN region. It appears that ASEAN members are joining together to discuss the problem and lay plans down for future improvements. In this article, we look at the recent ASEAN ministerial meeting, and how they plan to address the Southeast Asian marine trash problem.
Marine Habitats Under Threat From Waste Pollution
So why is this an issue? Surely you have seen the news and photos. Southeast Asian marine habitats are becoming polluted. If you look on the web you can see photos of once beautiful beaches that are now covered in plastic and rubbish.
This pollution extends to the marine habitats, especially coastal areas where tourism is a main economic staple. The problem is partially due to Southeast Asia’s reliance on plastic – Asian nations such as Thailand are some of the largest users of plastic in the world – obviously, this plastic has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it inevitably ends up in the sea! But how could this pollution affect Southeast Asian countries?
Damage to marine habitats
First and foremost, marine habitats are being damaged. The sheer volume of waste is polluting bodies of water and clogging up the oceans. This is, of course, unsightly, but can also destroy whole ecosystems. This, in turn, will have a negative impact on marine life. Fish and sea creatures can ingest the plastic which can be fatal. Large marine life can get stuck in the rubbish and it can also reduce available space within their habitats and disrupt their natural behaviours.
Reduction in the popularity of tourist locations
The other main issue is the impact it could have on Southeast Asian tourism. This region of the world is renowned for its beauty – stunning golden beaches and idyllic landscapes that stretch as far as the eye can see. If these landscapes are becoming littered with marine waste, will they have the same appeal? We have already witnessed the closure of several prominent beaches in Thailand due to litter. If the trash is not stemmed, the tourism sector could be negatively affected.
ASEAN Nations to Make long-lasting change
Real commitment from ASEAN nations towards marine trash problems has been scarce up until now. There has been no considerable framework or plan outlined. The Special ASEAN meeting on the 5th of March has changed this. As you will see below, it is now clear that the ASEAN nations are serious about tackling this ever-increasing issue of marine trash and pollution:
Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Marine Debris
As a first step towards reducing marine debris, the ASEAN committee held a meeting to specifically discuss this issue. This was the Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on marine Debris – The Thai government chaired this meeting and were the ones who pushed it forward.
The meeting included ministers from each nation within ASEAN who are responsible for environmental, marine and natural resource affairs within their respective country. Held on the 5th of March, the meeting aimed to provide a platform from which to explore the problem of marine debris. It also aimed to get each ASEAN state to commit to pollution reduction and working together for the improvement of the region. A full brief of the meeting can be found here. This meeting went as planned and the Bangkok Declaration has in principle been agreed on.
The Bangkok Declaration
As stated, the special ASEAN meeting discussed the upcoming Bangkok Declaration. The ASEAN members agreed upon this declaration in principle – it will be the first of its kind where ASEAN countries work together to tackle a common goal – marine pollution. What this declaration actually entails is yet to be seen. But it will surely be a landmark event that will have great ramifications. It is speculated that the Bangkok Declaration will include provisions for regulations, policies and new laws relating to marine waste dumping and management.
Knowledge Centre on ASEAN Marine Debris
To provide a central point of operations and initiatives, ASEAN will create the first Knowledge Centre on ASEAN Marine Debris. This centre will be based in Indonesia and will receive strong technical and financial support from Japan. What will the Knowledge Centre do?
It will be responsible for gathering vital information and statistics about marine pollution and debris. This information can then be put to good use. Furthermore, the centre will push forward new ideas and innovations to help reduce pollution and waste dumping in marine areas. As there is such a wide area to cover, there will also be a smaller branch of the Knowledge Centre based in Thailand – this centre will concentrate exclusively on the Mekong River Basin and how to reduce pollution there.
It is clear that members of ASEAN are truly committed to reducing marine trash. They understand the severity of the issue and the impact it will have on both marine environments, and their vital tourist economy. Summits such as the Special ASEAN meeting on Marine Debris and agreements like the Bangkok Declaration are a huge step in the right direction. We should hopefully witness a clear up of the marine areas within Southeast Asia in the forthcoming years.
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