In the ocean of plastics

The surface of our planet, as opposed to its name, is water-covered by the World Ocean by 71%. But taking into account how much different trash the mankind dumps into in, the most part of our planet can be covered with garbage and plastic objects in the imminent future. In order to find out how plastic debris and other wastes are dangerous, The Maritime Telegraph asked a leading engineer on technogenic-ecological safety of the division of the ecological safety department of navigational safety SE “AMPU”, Vladislav Dolinsky, to comment on this issue.

Plastics vs the World Ocean

Plastics, which is so familiar to us, has existed for about 70 years. It has deeply penetrated almost in all the spheres, from textile to construction, having become an integral part of our everyday life. Due to its durability, all the plastics, which has been produced, exists nowadays one way or another. 

The way of life of a modern man supposes one-time use of many articles of everyday use, be it plastic kitchenware, bottles for water, plastic bags and etc. Due to this fact, an enormous number of decomposing wastes have been accumulated all over the planet. The largest shore-based garbage dumps are situated in the USA (Apex Regional garbage dump, Las-Vegas), Mexico (Bordo Poniente garbage dump, Mexico), China (Laogang garbage dump, Shanghai), as well as in Italy, South Korea, India and Hong-Kong). Even bigger amount of wastes (inclusive of plastics, which is very environmentally-dangerous) gets in the waters of the World Ocean and is accumulated in those areas, where winds and currents cause emergence of swirls, sucking in any floating trash.

As Vladislav Dolinsky mentions, approximate estimates show that the most contaminated zones of the World Ocean can contain up to 100, 000 particles of microplastics per cubic meter. Currently there are about 51 billion microscopic pieces of plastics, weighing 269,000 tons. In our days, “the plastic problem” has spread out till the ecological disaster scale.

Recent research has revealed that 100% of sea turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of sea-calves and 40% of examined types of sea birds show traces of plastics contamination, – says Vladislav. – Even in the most lifeless and remotest part of the World Ocean, “Point Nemo” (2,688 km to the nearest shore), 27 particles of microplastics per cubic meter were recorded. It testifies that even the most inaccessible places are subject to plastics pollution.

A research of the University of Plymouth has shown up that plastics of different stage of decomposition, was found in one third of fish and shellfish caught in Great Britain.

Such a disaster scale has already led to a fact that particles of plastics get into a human’s body together with fish. And the influence of a consumption of such fish is virtually unknown. Thus, in 2016 the European Food Safety Authority declared about a decreased risk of plastics contents in fish.

Plastics vs IMO

The main objective of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is to ensure the safety of the international merchant shipping and to prevent pollution of the marine environment. For more than 70 years of its existence, the organization has taken a series of steps to protect the environment from plastic emissions. More than 45 years ago, the MARPOL 73 Convention was adopted at the international level, and a little bit later – its protocol and related annexes. The purpose of the convention is to establish clear rules for the treatment of all types of pollutants and waste generated during normal operation of the ship, as well as to minimize pollution of the oceans and seas.

About 30 years ago, MARPOL 73/78, Annex 5 to the Convention, banned the burning of plastic waste in shipboard incinerators, and dumping of the plastics into the oceans was completely prohibited. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Committee adopted the IMO Action Plan for the Control of Marine Plastic Litter from Ships, aimed at improving existing regulations and introducing new supporting measures to reduce marine plastic litter from ships.

Vladislav Dolinsky explained that the Plan affects not only macroplastic in the form of large products (plastic bags, bottles and fishing tackle), but also microplastic (small plastic particles not exceeding 5 mm), which poison the marine environment and negatively affect human health, as well as industries of tourism, fishing and shipping. However, a number of countries have already completely prohibited the use of disposable plastic on ships. India became the first country, and Kuwait has already joined. Despite all the measures taken and the accumulated regulatory framework, discharges into the sea continue to occur.

It is worth noting that the shipping on plastic emissions is far from a leading place. Vladislav Dolinsky noted that, according to the world studies, the main part of the global ocean pollution is associated with discharges from coastal sources, including those located near coastal rivers. The highest level of pollution is caused by developing countries, including the African continent.

– In Ukraine, scientists from the EMBLAS (Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea) project, which was held under the authority of the EU and UNDP, say that the dirtiest sea is near river deltas. For example, the coastal zone of the whole Odessa region is a zone of high pollution: four huge water arteries carry their waters here: the Danube, the Dniester, the Southern Bug and the Dnieper. The dirtiest zone, according to scientists, is the Danube Delta, – summed up Vladislav Dolinsky. – Unfortunately, this river carries out the most pollution to the Black Sea.

Plastics vs the Black Sea

According to the project, the density of marine litter on the surface of the Black Sea is 90.5 units per square kilometer. More litter there is only in the Strait of Malacca or in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean! In the Mediterranean, previously considered the dirtiest sea in Europe, this figure accounts for 52 units per square kilometer.

Because of these figures, 83% of the garbage found in the Black Sea accrues to plastics. Rivers take out plastic debris to the sea in the following ratio: 20% – plastic bottles, 14% – pieces of plastic, another 14% – containers, 11% – bags, 9% – packaging. Directly into the sea: 68% are pieces of plastic, 9% are containers, 8% are plastic bags, 3% are polystyrene.

Vladislav Dolinsky
A leading engineer on technogenic-ecological safety of the division of the ecological safety department of navigational safety SE “AMPU”.

According to Annex 5 of MARPOL 73/78, all countries-parties to the Convention are obliged to provide a sufficient number of port reception facilities for all types of seaborne garbage in their ports. As a rule, special vessels are used in ports for this purpose, but in some ports, vehicles or specialized stationary containers are still used for this. The editors of the magazine asked Vladislav Dolinsky what steps the state structures of Ukraine are taking to maintain cleanliness in the sea and port water areas in particular.

“In our ports, the Administration of Seaports of Ukraine and its branches at each port are responsible for the operation of port reception facilities,” – he replied. – In 2015-2016 the specialists of the GPA “AMPU” together with the European colleagues from the “Traseka” project, in order to streamline the work system of the port reception facilities, developed the “Typical Plan for the Management of Ship Waste and Cargo Remains.” It corresponded to IMO requirements, as well as the European Union target directive and was implemented in pilot mode in three ports, namely in Odessa, Chernomorsk and Pivdenny. In 2018 the plan was updated and applied in all the seaports of Ukraine. An issue regarding the mandatory treatment of the further safe handling of waste collected from ships, including the transfer for recycling of plastics can be considered one of the main aspects.

It should also be noted that in Ukraine there is a fairly large number of public organizations that fight pollution, including Saturday gatherings and relevant seminars.

– AMPU does not stand aside either. For the fifth year in a row, the “Pivdenny” branch has hosted the Green Wave children’s contest, which aims at attracting the attention of children and their parents to environmental pollution problems, – commented Vladislav Dolinsky.

 The damage that the plastic plague brings to the environment has already been fully felt by the inhabitants of the entire planet. Mankind has long been thinking about an alternative to plastics, but neither wood, nor glass, nor paper has gained more popularity than plastics and polyethylene analogues so far. Nevertheless, plastic waste is an alternative source of energy and secondary raw materials, which are now gradually being introduced into all areas of our lives.

Captain Yuri Vistyak

Captain Yuri Vistyak

About 10 years ago, the ship on which I worked entered the port of Manila (the Philippines) and immediately fell into the garbage patch. The surface of the water was completely covered with a dense layer of various wastes, including plastics. I even reduced the speed, because I was afraid that it would clog the cooling system grating.

By no means, among all the contaminants, oil and petroleum products cause the most terrifying damage to the environment. Against this background, the discharge of plastic debris seems almost harmless. Nevertheless, its harm can be felt in the long term, when garbage accumulates in large quantities and begins to decompose.

In 2019, fortunately, I did not see such a picture off the coast of Manila. This is undoubtedly pleasing. If you hear about plastic water pollution, this is primarily about settlements, and not about shipping.

The Ocean Cleanup estimates that around 1,000 rivers annually pollute 80% of the World Ocean. This is 0,8 – 2,7 million metric tons of marine trash per year. Actually, these are urban rivers are the most dangerous for the environment.

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-governmental environmental organization dedicated to the recovery of plastic waste from the oceans. The organization developed Inceptor technology to help to prevent plastics from getting from the rivers into the ocean. Working closely with the heads of the countries, private companies, and the academic community, The Ocean Cleanup has set a goal to eliminate maximum pollution by 2025.