Assessing the effectiveness of MARPOL Annex V at reducing marine debris on Australian beaches

Catarina Serra-Gonçalves, Jennifer L. Lavers, Heidi L. Tait, Andrew M. Fischer, Alexander L. Bond

To mitigate marine debris and promote sustainable marine industries, legislation and regulations surrounding the management of marine debris have been adopted worldwide. One of the most well-known and important agreements is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which focuses on reducing all types of ship-sourced marine pollution. MARPOL Annex V, which deals with the disposal of solid waste, came into force on 31 December 1988. However, was only amended to include a complete ban on waste disposal as of 1 January 2013. Assessing the effectiveness of key regulations is fundamental for supporting evidence-based decisions regarding the management of our oceans. Here, we evaluated whether MARPOL Annex V translated into a decrease in the incidence of shipping- and commercial fishing-sourced debris on remote beaches in Australia using 14 years of standardised, community-driven data. From 2006 to 2020 there was a significant change over time in the density of fishing and shipping debris on Australian beaches; debris density increased up to 2013 followed by a decrease until mid-2017. Although the new regulation started in January 2013, the decrease in density was not recorded until one year later. The decline was only observed for 4 years, reinforcing the existence of lags between the implementation of international agreements and the corresponding potential reduction in debris in the environment. This provides compelling evidence that international agreements and policies by themselves are not enough to solve the debris problem, with improved implementation and enforcement also required. We discuss future perspectives and solutions to reduce ocean-sourced litter inputs into the ocean and highlight the urgent need for action.