More than 6.4 million tons of debris reaches the world's oceans each year and leads to high costs in clean-ups and damage to fisheries.iStockPhoto
The damage caused by marine rubbish and debris is costing the Asia-Pacific region more than a billion dollars each year, a new report has found.
The report, commissioned by the Marine Resource Conservation working group of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), found >debris is increasing in the region's oceans, despite measures to control it.
Study author Alistair McIlgorm of the National Marine Science Center in Coffs Harbor said 6.4 million tons of debris reaches the world's oceans each year.
Of that, 80 percent is thought to come from land based sources, he said.
More than half of the rubbish is believed to be plastic, but McIlgrom said rubber, wood and sanitary products also add to the problem.
"Poor landfill practices are big contributors to marine debris, especially in Asia," said McIlgrom.
The report also tallied the economic costs of damage caused to the fishing and boat industries by marine rubbish in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Whether they have to untangle plastic from a ship propellers or totally replace an outboard - it's costing industries a lot," he said.
The report used a Japanese economic model, which estimates the damage caused by marine debris costs governments close to 0.3 percent of their GDP every year.
"That came to a total of $1.265 billion across the 21 APEC economies," said McIlgrom. In Australia, clean up of marine rubbish is costing close to $6.5 million each year.
But these figures are very conservative he said, and don't encompass the total impact of marine rubbish.
"There are lots of other costs, costs to wildlife, loss of tourism and lost capital development opportunities, like building a hotel or resort."
And the report doesn't include the clean-up bill, said McIlgrom.
"If you added the clean-up bill of all of APEC it would be a lot more."
He said what's really worrying is that the amount of marine debris in oceans is growing with the world's population.
"If you took the levels [of rubbish] in 1980 it was much less than it is today, basically we've got lazy with our use of plastics."
McIlgrom insists marine debris is an avoidable cost.
The report recommends that governments focus more on preventing rubbish entering our waterways, instead of trying to control it once it gets there.
"For every 100 units of rubbish that enter the ocean, 15 percent float on the surface, 15 percent collect in the water column near the shore and the rest sinks to the bottom of the deep ocean," said McIlgrom.
With most rubbish originating from land based sources, he said it makes more economic sense for governments to introduce preventative measures.
"Once debris enters the water and becomes diluted, it becomes much more expensive per unit of rubbish to pick up."
McIlgrom said governments should implement proper landfill practices, which would go a long way to reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in our water ways.
He said recycling, especially of plastic "really needs attention and thought."
McIlgrom said, good strategy is to reimburse people who recycle plastic bottles, like in South Australia.
The report also recommends building nets at the end of estuaries, where rivers or streams meet the ocean, to catch any debris before it makes its way into open water.