The beauty of islands is undeniable: waters representing a palette of blue and turquoise reflecting spectacular biodiversity. However, just below the surface, islands face particular challenges. The amount of marine litter increases due to high population densities, lack of consistent waste-management schemes, large influxes of tourists, and strategic merchant navigation. Islands are also ideal labs for testing measures and solutions. At the last Forum on Marine Litter and Circular Economy (Seville, 18-20 May 2022), the Canary Islands called for a specific forum to address islands’ characteristics and challenges: this is how MARLICE ISLANDS 2023 was born.
MARLICE ISLANDS, promoted and hosted by the Government of the Canary Islands and organized by AEBAM with a number of associated partners, in recognition of these unique and pressing challenges, invited participants to “BE PART OF MARLICE, BE PART OF THE SOLUTION.” Gathering stakeholders from civil society, the productive sector, research, and public administration, MARLICE aligned strategies “to achieve garbage-free oceans.” MedWaves, which has been supporting MARLICE since its first edition, joined this wave of synergies, bringing valuable experiences to support policy strategies and shed the light on effective solutions to prevent and reduce plastic pollution.
MARLICE offered a range of sessions, from focusing on the harmonization of beach monitoring methodologies through citizen science at inter-island level to panel discussions that addressed how to implement strategies in circular economy as a solution to marine litter. This model explained Patricio Peñalver Duque, AEBAM, “allows a real permeability of knowledge and brings positions closer among the different sectors, which is key to addressing a problem of shared responsibility such as marine litter.” In addition to the sessions, space and time were made available to nurture relaxed discussions. “We believe networking activities and discussion tables have been the most valued activities of the event” said Patricio Peñalver Duque.
MedWaves is grounded in an understanding that every stakeholder has a role to play in a collective transformational change toward sustainability. Our participation in local, national, regional, and global strategies creates the opportunity to link lessons learned and provide platforms for solutions. On the 7th of March, Magali Outters, Team Leader Policy Area, outlined the multi-level activities of MedWaves; globally looking towards an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and regionally working within the Barcelona Convention framework to support better governance for the prevention of plastic pollution, through the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management. She shared specific support delivered to countries to develop measures to tackle Single Use Plastics (SUPs) while engaging local stakeholders to share their experiences.
Magali Outters emphasized that every level of governance is of utmost importance: “While we urgently need an international legal agreement addressing the upstream plastic value chain, reducing quantity and toxicity the plastics produced, we also need “local heroes” that work on the ground to create local impact, raise awareness and change behaviors. Likewise, there should be effective coordination mechanisms between the different levels: local, national, regional (Mediterranean), and global.”
During a second session on 8th March, project manager for marine litter Pedro Fernández, together with Sylvain Petit, SMILO, focused on the demonstration of prevention of plastic leakage in Mediterranean islands through the BeMed-supported projects. Although islands face unique challenges, Sylvain Petit, SMILO, framed how this can be an advantage: “Long-term participative governance levers need to be actioned on small islands in order to guarantee good environmental status that is conducive to human development. The challenge here is to overcome resistance and manage potential conflicts about how natural resources, which are scarce, are to be used! Insularity can then become a strength. Having to rely on one’s own resources in a finite setting can be conducive to technical, technological, and social innovation.”
The Beyond Plastic Med (BeMed)-Islands capitalisation process results are an example of tangible, successful solutions preventing marine litter. As part of the CapiMed-Islands programme, BeMed projects support better governance for the prevention of plastic pollution. Pedro Fernández illustrated the capitalisation process which builds community, upscales efforts by transferring knowledge and skills, and delivers impact to affect policies. He highlighted the Hope for the Future which introduces changemakers who bring local experience to the relevant regional and global fora. He also pointed out that nearly 30 participating organisations have come together in solidarity to sign and support the Declaration of Frioul. “Being the capitalisation process highly appreciated by BeMed and the supported projects, it is not a project anymore but a long-term approach that will continue through BeMed work in Mediterranean islands. At MedWaves, we have learned about concrete islands context, such as the difficulties in finding the right alternatives to SUPs. Projects also welcomed the opportunity to learn and exchange with peers”.
On leveraging the MARLICE experience for continued success in facing ocean pollution, Sylvain Petit highlighted opportunities to integrate valuable local knowledge, know-how, and practices that have positive impacts on the environment of small islands: “The small island community of practice animated by SMILO thrives on sharing, disseminating and transmitting the results of scientific studies, surveys, impact evaluation of concrete actions carried out on the island of the network. Doing so, that the information is known and shared with local stakeholders and does not remain the property of experts outside the territory, and is known by other islanders sharing the same issues and challenges, therefore helping step forward towards a litter-free ocean!”
Magali Outters explained how forums such as MARLICE are critical in stimulating and sustaining “marine Litter practitioners.” She noted: “There is a growing community engaged to fight plastic pollution. The map of initiatives in the Mediterranean is impressive but we need to ensure that we learn from each other and coordinate in order to create impact.” Reflecting on the improved quality of information available on marine litter and the need for more data on macro and microplastics and information on the chemicals levels, Magali concluded: “we really need to ensure that this information is translated into decisions to reverse current dramatic trends and protect our environment and human health.”
MARLICE gained momentum, and it is now up to us to determine how we surf the wave and carry this into our shared future. Collectively, all sessions offered specific examples of how we can advance towards a future where clean oceans require islands free of marine litter. Our future relies on each and every stakeholder to embrace our opportunities to change and transform our world.
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