Recently, Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) in partnership with the Western Indian Ocean of Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) published their African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual. A simple and reliable guide for monitoring litter, it is the first manual ever to be written on how to measure plastic and other litter flowing to the seas of Africa.
The importance of monitoring litter
The world is facing a plastic litter crisis: plastics are found everywhere on the planet – from remote islands, to the arctic waters and even in the deepest place on Earth – the Mariana trench. It is in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Litter has environmental, social, and economic repercussions.
“In order to effectively deal with this problem, we need to understand how severe the problem is and how we can combat it,” says editor and SST researcher Toshka Barnardo. “That means we need to find out:
1) what and where are the sources of litter, 2) how much and what type of litter is there, 3) where are the hotspots of high litter loads, 4) where is the litter coming from on land and at sea, 5) how is the litter transported from its source to the sea and 6) how do the amounts and types of litter change over time?”
To answer these questions, measurements must set baselines against which changes over time can be measured through monitoring programmes. The measurements also indicate how severe the issues are and indicate the types of intervention and long-term plans needed to deal with the issues. Once these strategies have been implemented, continuous monitoring can show whether these planned interventions are successful in reducing litter, or whether they should be adapted.
A litter monitoring manual from an African perspective
Africa generates significant amounts of litter, most of which remains in the environment from where it flows to the sea. In 2015, Africa generated 125 million tonnes of municipal solid waste, which is expected to double by 2025. Litter is expected to increase due to the high population growth rate, rapid economic development, and high urbanization rate in Africa. Predictions are that Africa will have another 1.3 billion people by 2050, which could mean a doubling of the litter generation if action is not taken. This means that Africa may become the world’s major polluter of litter on land and to the ocean.
Currently, there are few data on litter in Africa. Nearly all data in African countries are based on estimates of how much litter is produced by people, on the socio-economic circumstances of countries, population density and national economies, with very few direct measurements. Therefore, there is a need to develop baseline measurements, set strategic goals, implement the interventions and measure progress.
“Most other litter monitoring manuals have been developed in first world countries and do not consider issues that we may encounter in Africa,” says Barnardo. “It is important to consider local conditions and limitations when developing protocols to study litter.”
As resources are often limited in African countries and people doing litter surveys do not always have scientific backgrounds, the African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual is written for anyone interested, regardless of resources or level of scientific training. Furthermore, protocols provided in the manual have been tested in various African countries to ensure that they work in Africa.
“We hope to equip anyone interested in litter surveys with the knowledge to do simple, reliable surveys to study litter in their environment,” says Barnardo. “This is an important stepping-stone to achieving the African Marine Waste Network’s goal of moving Africa Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas”.
Thank you to everyone involved in the manual
The manual is the result of a joint effort that involved various role-players from around Africa. It was edited by SST researcher Toshka Barnardo and CEO of SST, Dr. Anthony Ribbink. Contributing authors included members of SST, University of Cape Town, the University of Mauritius. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) provided financial support for the manual and the monitoring that goes along with it. SST partners in the ongoing WIOMSA Marine Litter Monitoring Programme piloted litter sampling protocols and provided feedback to improve upon them. These partners are Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Kenya; CETAMADA (association for the protection of marine mammals and their habitats), Madagascar; University of Mauritius, Mauritius; Universidade Lúrio & Fisheries Research Institute (IIP), Mozambique; The Ocean Project Seychelles, Seychelles; and Nipe Fagio, Tanzania.