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Marine Science



Cefas heads to South Africa to tackle ocean pollution. Experts from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), part of the UK government’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), are partnering with the South African government and working alongside research colleagues in South Africa to identify solutions to problems posed by marine litter, including reducing our reliance on single-use plastics, improvements in waste management, and moving towards a more circular economy for plastics.

The Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) launched with a community beach outreach event in Cape Town, on 24th September, where Cefas scientists demonstrated scientific monitoring techniques and held an exhibition on marine litter challenges and solutions. The UK Royal family’s Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are currently on a tour of South Africa, met with Cefas’ principal marine litter scientist, Thomas Maes, during the event to hear more about the CLiP programme and approaches to tackling marine litter internationally.

In recent years, the serious issue of marine litter and plastic pollution has been recognised by international governments and organisations, as well as local communities, as a growing threat to the marine environment and people’s livelihoods. This work will form a key part of the UK and Vanuatu led Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) which South Africa has joined, reflecting the priority they attach to this challenge. The CCOA, launched at the April 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in London, unites countries around the world in their shared ambition to tackle plastics in the marine environment. To support this, the UK government is funding the Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) to help share expertise and solutions.

The programme is working with colleagues in the South African government, regional organisations, academia and community groups, to develop ideas and actions which support existing efforts and will enable them to further achieve their ambitions on tackling plastic pollution. The programme will develop best practices and create a network of people, groups and communities across which these solutions and ideas can be shared.

UK International Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith said:

“It is fantastic to see UK scientists joining their Commonwealth counterparts and sharing expertise in the international fight to tackle the scourge of plastic in our oceans.

“Plastic pollution is a global challenge, which requires global action. I’m proud to say the UK is at the forefront of this challenge and, through our Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, we will use the collective power of the Commonwealth to protect our marine environment for future generations.”

Cefas’ principal marine litter scientist, Thomas Maes said:

“Cefas is delighted to be collaborating with the government and other organisations in South Africa in finding solutions to the issues around marine litter. Cefas has international expertise and experience in marine litter science and policy which we are pleased to share with South Africa, and other partner nations, to help address the problem.”

South Africa is the fourth country to be involved in the CLiP work and the team will bring their experiences from the previous phases of the programme which took place in the two Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, and more recently in Belize, in the Caribbean.

Scientists will be in the region until December, working with local colleagues and stakeholders to raise awareness of actions which can be taken. Alongside the scientific work there will be a marine litter arts and innovation contest for children, students and entrepreneurs to share their ideas on how to reduce plastic pollution. Winners will be announced in November at the CLiP Innovation Conference, to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) solutions to the issues. Workshops will also give the opportunity to consider scientific monitoring results in relation to approaches to tackling marine litter.

The programme continues in India from November, followed next spring by a conference to share best practice knowledge gained from across the countries involved in CLiP, to be held in London, UK.