Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee has announced a campaign by Maldivian fishing vessels to intercept and collect ocean plastics from the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The announcement was made Monday at the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York. Delivering a statement on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, presently chaired by the Maldives, Dr Shainee called marine pollution from plastics and microplastic an “issue of utmost urgency” for small island states as it affects marine biodiversity, food security and crucial fishing and tourism industries.
“I am proud to announce that our fisheries industry, consisting over 1,250 pole-and-line, handline and longline fishing vessels and processors will move one step ahead to reduce and phase out use of plastics, and intercept ocean plastics in our one-million square kilometre wide EEZ,” he said.
“The plastics intercepted by fishermen and collected at designated collection points will be handed over to Parley for the Oceans, who Maldives has been closely working with to recycle and reuse plastic wastes. We urge other nations to join hands to achieve environmental sustainability globally.”
Shainee is leading the Maldives delegation at the five-day UN conference on Sustainable Development Goal 14, which deals with conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources.
A senior fisheries ministry official told the Maldives Independent that the plastic collection project will be launched in December to coincide with Fishermen’s Day events.
“We’ve started the administrative work, so hopefully we can launch it during that time,” he said.
Parley for the Oceans, a US-based organisation that works to protect marine life, has been working with the government as well as resorts, schools and fishing vessels to collect up to 120 tonnes of plastic from the sea every month.
The plastic is shipped to recycling plants and turned into filament and then yarn or fabric.
Last year, Germany’s multinational Adidas used plastic intercepted by Parley in the Maldives to create 100 handmade shoes and other sportswear.
The Adidas Parley range includes the current home shirt of Spanish football giant Real Madrid and 11 products such as flip flops, running shoes, and shorts.
In August 2016, Parley presented President Abdulla Yameen one of the first handmade shoes made using Maldivian ocean plastic. As of August, five million plastic bottles were intercepted from beaches in the Maldives and shipped for use by Adidas, according to Parley.
More than eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean annually, which is toxic when ingested by plankton, fish and other marine animals. Coral reefs are also at risk as corals consume microplastics and are unable to expel the tiny fragments.
A nationwide campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags was meanwhile launched Monday to mark World Environment Day.
Speaking at an event held to launch the ‘Stopping plastics in the ocean – reducing plastic waste’ campaign, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim stressed the importance of solving the challenge of waste management in the Maldives to ensure the sustainability of the local fisheries and tourism industries.
According to the environment ministry, the campaign involves sensitisation of students to the dangers of plastic waste in the ocean. The ministry also plans to hold discussions with local water bottling companies to explore possibilities for reducing the use of plastic bottles.
The Maldives presently levies a 400 percent tariff on imported non-biodegradable plastic bags while biodegradable plastic bags can be brought in without paying any customs duty.
According to Maldives Customs Service, the increase of the import duty from 200 to 400 percent for non-biodegradable bags in 2015 resulted in a slight decline in the import of non-biodegradable bags.
In January 2015, 43 million biodegradable bags and 36 million non-biodegradable bags were imported to Maldives.
Four islands -Bodufolhudhoo, Maalhos and Ukulhas in Alif Alif atoll and Keyodhoo in Vaavu atoll – have since stopped using plastic bags.
In October, local telecommunications company Dhiraagu introduced an environment-friendly reusable bag as part of its ‘For The Oceans’ campaign, which encourages the use of reusable bags instead of single-use plastic bags.
The company has also carried out reef cleaning exercises with schoolchildren and set up plastic collection areas in all Dhiraagu offices. The collected plastic is exported to Parley of the Oceans via local NGO BEAM.
Dhiraagu has also banned single-use plastic bottles.