Marine debris, a threat to Pacific migratory species, on the global agenda

23 October 2017, Manila, Philippines - Each year up to 13 million tonnes of plastic and 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is dumped in the ocean. This was the reality placed before delegates of the Twelfth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS COP12) as the event opened in Manila. Marine debris, a key issue for the Pacific islands, is on the agenda at the Conference which calls for international cooperation for the conservation of migratory species.
Art work on display at the CMS COP12
In the Pacific, a large number of the migratory species requiring conservation are marine, such as whales, turtles, dugongs, rays and sharks, and while overharvesting and eradication of habitats are also clear and present dangers, there is now the added threat caused by marine pollution.

"Plastic is incredibly useful, reflected in the 20-fold increase in demand over the last 50 years, but our taste for single-use plastic is unacceptable and our handling often irresponsible," said Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of UN Environment at the opening of the CMS COP12. Just last month the UN Environment launched the "Towards a Pollution Free Planet" report.
Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment

"The dramatic images of huge swathes of it ending up on beaches, fishing nets and coral reefs barely scratch the surface of the problem, because just a tiny amount of 5 trillion bits of plastic in our oceans float on top. Stories of whales dying because of a stomach full of plastic bags still make the headlines but the turtles, seabirds, seals and 600 other species affected do not, the infections, suffocations, cut or lost flippers, blocked digestive systems - they all cause suffering and death that is conveniently out of sight of the people responsible."

Marine debris also impacts biodiversity and human health and is a growing problem. A global review found a 49% increase between 1997 and 2015 in reports of marine species being entangled in and ingesting marine debris. A recent study of ingestion of plastic by fish in the Pacific region found micro plastics in the digestive systems of 97% of the 34 species of fish that were examined.

In September this year, members of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) endorsed a Call for Action on Plastic Microbeads. Many of the Member countries have also implemented strong measures in their legislative frameworks by banning the use of single-use plastic bags, plastic and Styrofoam packaging. SPREP and UN Environment with several partners submitted a Voluntary Commitment at the UN Ocean Conference in June this year to promote a reduction in marine debris in the Pacific Ocean.

"We know that our fish are eating lots of plastic. The average Pacific Islander eats 80 kilograms of fish per year, four times more than the global average, and the proportion of fish known to have eaten plastic in the Pacific is 30% higher than the global average. This would suggest that a Pacific islander has a much higher likelihood of consuming plastic" said Mr Anthony Talouli, SPREP Pollution Adviser.

Here at the CMS COP12 in Manila, there is a strong call for a wide range of actions and awareness of marine debris to bring about positive impacts for our ocean, marine migratory species and people. Further information on the agenda item and information paper can be found at:

Special opening performance by the host country of CMS COP12

The CMS COP12 opening plenary was held on 23 October featuring a special opening performance by the host country, the Philippines. A range of high level speakers were part of the opening ceremony, these included the heads of the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat as well as the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Secretariat.

The CMS COP12 is held from 23 to 28 October, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. The Pacific islands is part of the Oceania Region which consists of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Palau, Philippines and Samoa. For more information please visit:

Work to enhance and strengthen Pacific representation and engagement at the CMS COP12 is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts as well as the Second Phase of the ACPMEA project, an initiative of the African Caribbean Pacific group of countries, funded by the European Union, implemented in partnership by UN Environment and executed by SPREP.
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