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Southeast Asia commits to ocean cleanup

By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-07 08:57

Tourists walk next to piles of debris brought in by strong waves on a beach in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, Jan 23, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

ASEAN's Bangkok Declaration is a first step, but much more needs to be done

An action plan by Southeast Asian countries showcases their commitment to reducing marine pollution, stressing the need for collaboration to tackle a worsening problem.

In a joint statement issued after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Special Ministerial Meeting on Marine Debris held on Tuesday in Bangkok, ASEAN's environment ministers approved in principle the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region and the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris. Both documents are expected to be officially endorsed at the 34th ASEAN Summit to be held in June in the Thai capital.

The ASEAN member states are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The meeting's chairman and Thailand's environment minister, General Surasak Karnjanarat, told a news conference that the declaration next must be approved by individual governments but more discussion will be held in the next few weeks. Each ASEAN member state plans to adopt a national action plan, according to a report published by Thai newspaper The Nation.

Environmental advocates welcomed this move toward collaboration as Southeast Asian countries are now among the world's biggest sources of marine waste.

Adopting the declaration "will show that there is recognition by governments that the planet is facing a plastic pollution crisis," said Beau Baconguis, a plastics campaigner with the Manila-based Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

She is looking forward to the ratification of the agreement and to see how each member state translates its provisions into concrete policies.

Danny Marks, assistant professor of environmental studies at the City University of Hong Kong, said while the declaration is a "positive first step", but the region still needs to do more to reduce marine pollution.

Bans, taxes, investment

"Needed actions include bans, taxes, comprehensive waste management reform, and significant investment in waste management infrastructure," he said. Such actions may affect people's habits and consumer goods industries but eventually bring benefits to all.

Marks said the Bangkok Declaration must be more binding and sets targets on waste reduction. He cited the example of the European Parliament, which voted in October to ban single-use plastics by 2021 in Europe.

Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the Philippine-based ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, said it is "extremely more important" for the ASEAN states to jointly reduce marine pollution.

"The marine ecosystem in the ASEAN is high in coral and fish diversity and supplies food to the region's coastal communities (as well as to a) large part of the world's marine fish consumers," Lim said.

Lim added that since the region is one of the world's biggest sources of plastic waste, the region must also lead in the global campaign against marine pollution.

"Plastics and pollutants in the sea also move across boundaries, following the current and water flows, thus the efforts must be transboundary as well," she said.

She proposed that one way for ASEAN countries to tackle marine pollution is to identify certain marine areas and heritage parks as protected areas.

"These areas can be the considered last bastions for marine biodiversity," she said, adding that these areas can serve as the region's demonstration sites on how to restore the ocean's health.

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