The 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention unites 193 nations behind a shared commitment to preserve the world’s outstanding heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 49 ocean places – distributed across 37 countries – recognised for their unique marine biodiversity, singular ecosystem, unique geological processes or incomparable beauty. The disappearance of these World Heritage marine sites
would be an irreversible loss to humanity. These sites are under multiple pressures, of which one specific topic has a global impact: marine litter. But what is the impact of marine litter on World Heritage marines and their Outstanding Universal Value?
In 2018, KIMO was commissioned to undertake a survey aimed at determining the prevalence and extent of marine litter at UNESCO World Heritage marine sites. Following the survey of marine site managers, a dedicated workshop was organised in 2018 to document and share the experiences and good practices from the people in the field, the managers from UNESCO World Heritage marine sites. Results of the survey and the outcomes of the workshop are now publicly available in our report which is available to download below.
Key findings of the report include:
- All of the 46 World Heritage marine sites that responded indicate that marine litter is present at their site.
- Marine litter affects a broad range of organisms in the WH marine sites. This impacts both plants and animals present at several depth levels at sea, on land and in the air.
- Marine litter impacts the local economy and makes sites less economically attractive.
- The respondents indicated that they consider the main sources of marine litter at the sites to be shipping, fisheries, local sources, riverine input, and other sources.
- Of the 49 WHms, 26 indicated that marine litter monitoring is carried out at their site although monitoring and recording systems are not standardised across sites. All systems applied focus on macro-litter.
- Marine litter in sites is currently being addressed by measures such as beach clean-ups, prevention by means of awareness-raising campaigns, mitigation measures and other measures.
- The disposal of the marine litter is in most cases paid for by (in order of prevalence): local authorities, national authorities, external funding and other means of funding.
- According to the managers from World Heritage marine sites, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre could help reduce the impacts of marine litter in the World Heritage Sites by (in order of prevalence): awareness raising, campaigning and projects, funding, sharing of best practices. Also mentioned were robust waste management and robust monitoring, targeted cleanups and changes to existing legislation.
It is evident that effective actions to combat marine litter are already being undertaken at many World Heritage marine sites. In order to fully address the problem, UNESCO aims to propagate these instances of best practice across all 49 sites. Local actions will of course depend on local circumstances but there are many lessons to be learnt through the sharing of best practice. As an international organisation with a global reach, UNESCO is well placed to raise awareness of the global problem of marine litter and the steps that need to be taken in order to address the problem. At KIMO we are honoured to have been included as part of that process.