Greenpeace wants ASEAN to address plastics pollution in the high seas

Greenpeace is calling on ASEAN governments to advance oceans protection ahead of the upcoming ASEAN leaders’ summit in Manila in April. Crucial issues were raised in a forum attended by delegates from Southeast Asian nations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions (ABNJ), recently held in the Philippine capital on January 18-19.

The Department of Agriculture - Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries and the Department of Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau, in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia jointly organized the two-day event that was attended by government officials, marine scientists and activists from five ASEAN countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

A 2015 study named the same five countries to be the biggest sources of plastics pollution in the world’s oceans [1]. Greenpeace is urging ASEAN states to take concrete measures and stop the environmental degradation and dwindling of marine life in the region, including support for global efforts for more marine protected areas.

“Now is the time for ASEAN to come together and protect and conserve our fragile marine environment before it is too late”, said Atty. Zelda Soriano, Legal and Political Adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “We challenge the Philippine chairmanship to make a mark and leave a historic legacy if it can muster a regional cooperation to address the plastics pollution that originates from ASEAN countries.”

Plastic production rates have seen a steady growth in recent years, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam [2]. Of the 275 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean[3]. Plastic wastes often float in open seas, often ending up in gyres, circular motion of currents, forming conglomerations of swirling plastic trash called garbage patches, or accumulates in closed bays, gulfs and seas [4] [5] [6] [7]. Plastics also kill and injure a wide range of marine life. Consequently, people’s health are threatened when they eat fish that have ingested toxin-saturated plastics.

Crucial to the Manila forum was the crafting of a new international treaty— currently being negotiated at the United Nations— which could close governance gaps in protecting marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Areas beyond national jurisdiction make up two-thirds of the world’s ocean are governed by an insufficient patchwork of management mechanisms, with little coordination across the bodies that regulate industries such as fishing, mining, and shipping. A new treaty could help to close gaps where no one country or body has full authority to act, and create opportunities to establish marine protected areas (MPAs), including fully protected reserves, in waters beyond national control [8].

With critical and borderless issues like marine pollution and climate change that adversely affect the productivity of the oceans, ASEAN governments need to create more marine reserves where biodiversity can thrive, both within and beyond national waters. “In order to do that, we urgently need a new Treaty to enable the creation of marine reserves in areas beyond national jurisdiction,” Soriano said.


[1] Jambeck, J.R. et al. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347 (6223), 768-771. 10.1126/science.1260352

[2] Harnick, Paul, Emerging Market Leaders in Southeast Asia, Reaction Chemicals Magazine Fifteenth Edition (2014).­magazine­fifteenth­edit ion­v3.pdf

[3] Greenpeace Report: “Plastic debris in the world`s oceans.” (November 2, 2006). Available: Accessed June 15, 2016.

[4] Law, Kara Lavender, Skye Morét-Ferguson, Nikolai A. Maximenko, Giora Proskurowski, Emily E. Peacock, Jan Hafner, and Christopher M. Reddy. “Plastic Accumulation in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre.” Science 329, no. 5996 (September 3, 2010): 1185–88. doi:10.1126/science.1192321.

[5] Eriksen, Marcus, Nikolai Maximenko, Martin Thiel, Anna Cummins, Gwen Lattin, Stiv Wilson, Jan Hafner, Ann Zellers, and Samuel Rifman. “Plastic Pollution in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 68, no. 1–2 (March 15, 2013): 71–76. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.12.021.

[6] Eriksen, Marcus, Laurent C. M. Lebreton, Henry S. Carson, Martin Thiel, Charles J. Moore, Jose C. Borerro, Francois Galgani, Peter G. Ryan, and Julia Reisser. “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea.” Edited by Hans G. Dam. PLoS ONE 9, no. 12 (December 10, 2014): e111913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913.

[7] Goldstein, Miriam C., Andrew J. Titmus, and Michael Ford. “Scales of Spatial Heterogeneity of Plastic Marine Debris in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.” PLOS ONE 8, no. 11 (November 20, 2013): e80020. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080020.

[8] The development of the treaty is taking place at the United Nations through a Preparatory Committee that has met twice in 2016 and will have two sessions in 2017. At the conclusion of the Preparatory Committee, recommendations will be made as to the timing and whether negotiations for the treaty should be finalized.


Atty. Zelda Soriano, Legal and Political Advisor for Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Email: Mobile: +639175949424

Therese Salvador, Media Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Email: Mobile: +639178228734

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