Reports and Publications

Marine litter is a serious environmental, social, and economic threat to the blue economy of the Wider Caribbean Region. Due to the transboundary nature of marine litter, data-driven reduction measures are needed on a local, national, regional, and global level. To improve the knowledge base to inform the development of policies and measures in the Wider Caribbean Region, there is a need for a structured and regionally harmonized marine litter monitoring framework, aligned with global protocols.

The purpose of this report is to define an effective strategy and create a roadmap for a cost-effective and easily replicable means to collect high quality, harmonized marine litter data that can be used for driving and verifying effectiveness of reduction policies, awareness raising while ensuring that the data collected regionally is aligned with global marine litter data consolidation and analysis. This action plan builds on the 2019 recommendations for a hybrid approach on beach litter monitoring and incorporates regional and global assessments of marine litter frameworks, best practices of the established program for beach litter monitoring in the OSPAR region, and feedback from stakeholders within the Wider Caribbean Region.

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Every year, the sum of humanity’s knowledge increases exponentially. And as we learn more, we also learn there is much we still don’t know. Plastic litter in our oceans is one area where we need to learn more, and we need to learn it quickly but we already know enough to take action. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. As the Marine Litter Vital Graphics report explains, we need to act now if we want to avoid living in a sea of plastic by mid-century – even if we don’t know everything about what it’s doing to the health of people or the environment.

Full report available here

The first edition of this report was prepared in 2019. Since then, the global community has shown increased awareness in marine litter, resulting in additional capacity, collaboration, and technology. The goal of regional harmonization must also fulfil the requirements for global harmonization. To achieve a harmonized marine litter monitoring network within in the Wider Caribbean Region that also fits within the global context, the recommendations contained in this report have been updated to include the most up to date methodology that is consistent with global harmonization instruments. The main updates are as follows:

• The publication of the 2021 Joint List of Litter Categories for Marine Macrolitter Monitoring by the Joint Research Centre, which combines the litter types from different marine litter monitoring lists (including OSPAR and UNEP) into one list for the purposes of global scale harmonization

• In April 2021, OSPAR’s Coordinated Environmental Monitoring Programme launched the updated beach litter survey list dividing items between plastic and expanded polystyrene and adding new fisheries and COVID-19 related items.

• In July 2020, the Clean Swell App added new commonly found litter and COVID-19 related items. It is envisaged that all these updates will improve comparability of marine litter data across the globe. Changes in production and consumption patterns resulting in the introduction of new types of litter may necessitate future updates.

Read the full report here

Plastic pollution is one of several anthropogenic stressors putting pressure on ecosystems of the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem (CLME). A ‘Clean Ocean’ is one of the ambitious goals of the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. If this is to be realized, it is imperative to build upon the work of the previous decades (1980–2020). The objectives of the present study were to assess the state of knowledge about: (i) the distribution, quantification, sources, transport and fate of marine debris/litter and microplastics in the coastal/marine environment of the CLME and, (ii) the effects of plastics on biodiversity. Snapshots, i.e., peer-reviewed studies and multi-year (1991–2020) marine debris data from International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) events, indicated that plastic debris was a persistent issue in multiple ecosystems and environmental compartments of the CLME. Collectively, a suite of approaches (debris categorization, remote sensing, particle tracking) indicated that plastic debris originated from a combination of land and marine-based sources, with the former more significant than the latter. Rivers were identified as an important means of transporting mismanaged land-based waste to the marine environment. Oceanic currents were important to the transport of plastic debris into, within and out of the region. Plastic debris posed a threat to the biodiversity of the CLME, with specific biological, physical, ecological and chemical effects being identified. Existing data can be used to inform interventions to mitigate the leakage of plastic waste to the marine environment. Given the persistent and transboundary nature of the issue, further elucidation of the problem, its causes and effects must be prioritized, while simultaneously harmonizing regional and international approaches.

La Daana, K. K., Asmath, H., & Gobin, J. F. (2022). The status of marine debris/litter and plastic pollution in the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem (CLME): 1980–2020. Environmental Pollution, 118919.

Marine plastics are considered to be a major threat to the sustainable use of marine and coastal resources of the Caribbean, on which the region relies heavily for tourism and fishing. To date, little work has quantified plastics within the Caribbean marine environment or examined their potential sources. This study aimed to address this by holistically integrating marine (surface water, subsurface water and sediment) and terrestrial sampling and Lagrangian particle tracking to examine the potential origins, flows and quantities of plastics within the Southern Caribbean. Terrestrial litter and the microplastics identified in marine samples may arise from the maritime and tourism industries, both of which are major contributors to the economies of the Caribbean region. The San Blas islands, Panama had the highest abundance of microplastics at a depth of 25 m, and significantly greater quantities in surface water than recorded in the other countries. Modelling indicated the microplastics likely arose from mainland Panama, which has some of the highest levels of mismanaged waste. Antigua had among the lowest quantities of terrestrial and marine plastics, yet the greatest diversity of polymers. Modelling indicated the majority of the microplastics in Antiguan coastal surface were likely to have originated from the wider North Atlantic Ocean. Ocean currents influence the movements of plastics and thus the relative contributions arising from local and distant sources which become distributed within a country’s territorial water. These transboundary movements can undermine local or national legislation aimed at reducing plastic pollution. While this study presents a snapshot of plastic pollution, it contributes towards the void of knowledge regarding marine plastic pollution in the Caribbean Sea and highlights the need for international and interdisciplinary collaborative research and solutions to plastic pollution.

Courtene-Jones et al. (2020) Source, sea and sink—A holistic approach to understanding plastic pollution in the Southern Caribbean. Science of The Total Environment 797: 149098.

The scope of the study is limited to public policies introduced during the period from January 2000 to July 2019, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments mobilize to respond to the pandemic, certainly these policies may change, so that this study may provide a baseline for “before-after” comparisons. Additionally, the scope of this study is limited to those policies explicitly aiming to reduce plastic leakage. At the same time, generally applicable waste management policies are considered to be fundamental to addressing the problem, even if they are not explicitly intending to do so (i.e., they were not designed at least partially in response to the problem of leakage of plastic into the ocean). For the purpose of this study, the current and future trends in these generally applicable policies are considered as part of the baseline or business-as-usual scenario, unless they have been amended or adjusted explicitly to respond to the plastic pollution problem. This study aims to identify and characterize the additional response from governments, which in combination with general waste management policies, equals the total possible government response to the marine plastic pollution problem. To achieve the study’s objectives, a non-comprehensive, global Plastics Policy Inventory was developed, based on searches of: (1) global policy databases as primary sources of data, (2) scientific literature and an ad hoc review of non-refereed literature as secondary sources, and (3) media resources. As a cross-check, ten experts were consulted to identify any gaps in the first iteration of the inventory. Searches of the scientific literature were conducted on the following interdisciplinary scientific or legal research databases: Web of Science, Google Scholar, and HeinOnline (legal literature). From these databases, over 13,000 returns were screened, resulting in a Plastics Policy Library of 136 articles studying one or more public policies aiming to address plastic pollution.