x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Education is key to clean coastlines

Beach-goers bring pollution with them and need to change their attitude on littering, a UN report says.

A municipal city worker collects rubbish along the shore next to Khalidiya Palace and Rotana Hotel and Resort construction site.
A municipal city worker collects rubbish along the shore next to Khalidiya Palace and Rotana Hotel and Resort construction site.

NEW YORK // UN marine experts have called for a nationwide education programme to reduce the number of plastic bags, cigarette butts and other rubbish being dumped along the UAE coastline. The call from Piero Mannini, a regional fisheries expert for the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation, comes on the heels of a report that says the world's oceans are full of discarded rubbish. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) study released this week, Marine Litter: A Global Challenge, warns that waste not only defaces beaches but can kill wildlife and damage nautical equipment. Mr Mannini said the bottles, plastic bags and other refuse dumped on Abu Dhabi's many islands by hordes of weekend revellers was evidence that public attitudes must change. "The problem in this area is related directly to the urbanisation of the coastal areas, which will increase as new towns and tourism developments are built. "Where there is more population, there is more littering," Mr Mannini said. "We need to focus on the origin of the problem, which is human, and increase environmental education and awareness. "People need to know that when they discard a cigarette butt, it won't just stay in the sea for a few days - it will be there for years." Taking schoolchildren to heavily littered beaches and teaching them about the fatal consequences to dolphins and turtles who swallow plastic bags can have "quite an impact" on young minds, he said. More bins on beaches, along with signs and properly enforced laws against littering, can also change behaviour, he said. Gayatri Raghwa, programme developer for environment education at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, said yesterday: "Litter is a serious issue. We saw this problem first-hand during the beach cleanup campaigns we organised earlier this year." She said plastic was the main problem, while large amounts of foam and glass also build up. "All of these are extremely harmful to marine organisms," she said. Plastic in particular is extremely dangerous to turtles and marine birds, who often mistake it for food and eat it." Although hundreds of diving fans and environmentalists meet regularly to trawl the seas and beaches for litter across the emirates, Mr Mannini said changing the public's attitude toward littering required greater effort. The 1,131kg of marine debris collected by more than 400 volunteers at Mina Port in February is an example of an operation that attacks the problem but not the root cause, experts say. The annual Clean Up Arabia campaign, arranged by International Coastal Cleanup, the Emirates Diving Association and the Ministry of Environment and Water, helps but does not necessarily educate the beach-going public, experts say. UNEP's 232-page report, released on Monday to coincide with World Oceans Day, revealed that plastic - especially bottles and bags - accounts for more than 80 per cent of the rubbish collected in the seas it studied. The Arabian Gulf seafront is one of the world's most heavily littered coastlines, the report says. The pollution threatens the environment, tourism and residents along the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and coastlines globally, it adds. In Jordan, beachgoers generate 67 per cent of marine litter - far greater than the contributions of shipping and port activities (30 per cent) and fishing (3 per cent), the UN report says. Researchers say tourists are less likely to visit areas with polluted and littered beaches, noting that one-fifth of Egypt's hotels are along the Red Sea coast and contribute to the nation's third-largest revenue stream. Achim Steiner, UNEP's director, said governments were not doing enough. "Some of the litter, like thin-film single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere - there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," Mr Steiner said. "Other waste can be cut by boosting public awareness and proposing an array of economic incentives and smart market mechanisms that tip the balance in favour of recycling, reducing or reuse rather than dumping into the sea." jreinl@thenational.ae