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Groups Call on European Countries to Cut Marine Litter by Half

Seas at Risk

Non-governmental organizations (NGO) leading the fight against marine litter and plastic pollution in Europe are calling on European countries to set a 50 percent reduction target ahead of the July deadline this year when states are required to finalize their marine environmental targets for 2020.

The proposal has been detailed in an NGO advice document in relation to national public consultations that are taking place across Europe in relation to the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

The call for action is being put to North East Atlantic countries meeting this week in the Hague for the OSPAR Commission’s Environmental Impacts of Human Activities Committee—one of the last opportunities for this group of countries to discuss their regional approach to target setting under the MSFD.

“Garbage patches forming across the world’s oceans and litter strewn beaches found across Europe demand an ambitious response and a 50 percent cut within European waters is the bare minimum we should be aiming for," said Chris Carroll of Seas At Risk. "Individuals, industry and governments can use such a target as an incentive for implementing the sorts of measures that are so badly needed to address this problem, and July this year will be the litmus test for political ambition.”

The target has been proposed by members of Seas At Risk, including the Marine Conservation Society (UK), the Surfrider Foundation Europe, the North Sea Foundation (Netherlands), Friends of the Earth Germany, The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the European Environmental Bureau and the Liga para A Protecção da Natureza (Portugal).

The MSFD is the only existing European legal instrument that requires countries to reduce marine litter. The opportunity is unparalleled and makes a reduction target of 50 percent across the marine environment by 2020 distinctly possible with the concerted action that should result from having multiple countries act in unison on a problem that knows no boundaries.

With multiple opportunities to better enforce current regulations, to amend existing national and European legislation and the possibility of developing a European action plan so as to better account for marine litter, it is highly likely that a significant reduction of 50 percent can be achieved by 2020, if not a greater reduction.

Not only are all EU countries legally committed to achieving the aims of the directive, but marine litter has and will continue to benefit from growing industry and public interest in taking on initiatives to help mitigate the problem.

A similar target has been achieved in the past. In the report of the EU’s expert group on marine litter, it was highlighted that a 50 percent reduction was achieved in the 1990’s concerning plastic pellets in the marine environment.

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Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.