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Collecting 138K Tons of Marine Debris in 2020, 45% Up from 2018

Date. 2021-03-15
Hit. 78

Plastics had ranked second-to-none taking up 83% of all types of coast-borne debris for the last 3 years.


The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF; Minister MOON, Seong-Hyeok) made an official announcement on March 10, 2021 about marine debris including the quantity of its collection and results of the monitoring project nationally conducted for the preceding 3 years (2018-2020).


The outcomes present that 138,000 tons of marine debris came from all coastal areas in 2020, 45% up from 2018 (95,000 tons). Plastics made up the greatest portion (83%) of the waste, especially coast-found, all the way through the 3-year monitoring.


The debris, collected by the MOF and local governments, was statistically classified by location into deposited, floating and coastal items. The monitoring project consisted of surveys regularly conducted in 40 coastal areas for 6 times per year, whose result provided statistical breakdowns of coast-borne debris by type and quantity.


The 3-year average marine debris shows that approximately 78,000 tons (69%) were placed in the coastal area; 29,000 tons (25%) settled on the seabed; and 7,000 tons (6%) floated on the sea. While the total volume of debris collected on the shorelines more than doubled between 2020 and 2018, 112,000 tons and 48,000 tons, respectively, the deposited created a 57% reduction, 18,000 tons from 42,000 tons, over the same period.


In addition, the quantity of natural-disaster-induced debris (coastal & floating ones) tripled to 48,000 tons in 2020 from 14,000 tons in 2018. This apparently serves as a key indicator for the expanded coverage of the government’s investment in marine debris management and for massive creation of the debris by torrential downpours, typhoon and other weather events.


Better result of coast-borne debris collection is rightly attributed to hard work of marine environment keepers who have engaged in marine waste collection on a number of beaches since 2019. The collection done by 1,000 keepers amounted to 33,000 tons in 2020 equivalent to 29% of the year’s record.


The keepers had stepped up their efforts into qualitative and quantitative improvement, as evidenced by an 169% upsurge to 3.5 tons (from 1.3 tons) in per capita collection every month. Begun with 200 persons to pick up 2,700 tons in 2019, 1,000 persons collected 33,000 tons of the debris in the following year. With an unexpected increase of disaster-driven debris in 2020, it turned out that a well-organized system, so-called “earned value management”, encouraged marine environment keepers to reach a higher level of achievement, as it required the consistent on-site inspection and monthly report of performance. While seemingly improving the efficiency of the program’s management, the praiseworthy system would expectedly be a good motive for the keepers to take better responsibility for their work and the local government to tackle any challenges in waste management approach.


Such best practices come as output produced by a harmonious partnership between central and local governments to deal with disaster-induced marine debris annually skyrocketing in quantity. This positive move also prompted a contrasting curve in collection between floating and deposited debris.


Meanwhile, the result of the monitoring project demonstrates different types of plastic debris that accounts for the whopping 83% of all coastal waste. Of the types, hard materials like PET bottles and beverage lids made up the highest portion (26.6%) followed by foam materials like polystyrene buoys (20.7%); fishing ropes and other fiber types (17.1%); and film type such as plastic bags (11.8%). As much as 4.1% of the entire weight (1.3% of the entire numbers) of the debris came from overseas where China dominated almost all portion (95%).


“Prevention is the best option for addressing marine debris.”, said Choi, Seong-yong, Director of Marine Conservation Division of the MOF. “Cooperative responses with Ministry of Environment and other relevant authorities will be an effective drive to keep land-based waste from entering the sea. We plan to increase fences to be installed in the rivers; and introduce deposit refund scheme for fishing gear and buoy in the second half of the next year to reduce derelict items taking up 54% of annually-generated marine plastics (approx. 67,000 tons).”


The MOF will also put its commitment to creating more advantageous conditions for addressing marine debris issues. Projects on waste control will be more financed by the national subsidy to lighten the financial burden of local governments; marine environment keepers will increase in number up to 1,300 to enhance the collection capacity; and adopt-a-beach scheme will be introduced this year, under which private businesses and organizations are advised to voluntarily take their own beaches for cleaning, to raise the public awareness over marine debris issues.


More details of the stats are provided on the website of marine environment information (www.meis.go.kr) operated by Marine Debris Response Center of Korea Marine Environment Management Corporation.