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Seas and Oceans: Pollution

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the effects on the marine and coastal environment of plastics that have been dumped at sea or on beaches. (307639)

DEFRA has been working with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to incorporate the MCS long-term dataset for beach litter levels and sources of litter in the UK to assess UK marine litter levels as part of the evidence collection process for the Charting Progress 2 report.

Charting Progress 2 is an integrated assessment of the state of the UK seas that will measure progress towards achieving the Government's marine vision and will be published in 2010. The report will form an important building block in the Initial Assessment of UK waters, required by 2012 under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

DEFRA is working with international colleagues in OSPAR (the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) to support assessments of marine litter, and the OSPAR Quality Status Report (QSR) due to be published in 2010, will contain a regional assessment of litter levels.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the cost to (a) his Department, (b) local authorities and (c) non-governmental organisations of cleaning refuse from the coast in each year since 1997. (307640)

No estimate of the costs for cleaning refuse from coastal areas to DEFRA, local authorities or non-government organisations has been made.

Through the Environmental Protection Act (1990) local authorities have a statutory duty to keep their beaches clean down to the high water mark and many have beach management plans in place.

Beaches are regularly monitored through the National Indicator Set and many are signed up to such awards such as the international “Blue Flag” and England's “Quality Coast Award”, both administered by Keep Britain Tidy.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what information his Department holds on the (a) area covered by and (b) in weight tonnes of the mass of plastic debris identified in the Pacific Ocean; and what discussions he has had with international agencies on steps to reduce the effect on the marine environment of that debris. (307660)

The published literature on the Pacific litter gyre indicates that the area concerned is found within the North Pacific Subtropical High, an area of international waters, between Hawaii and California. Researchers have pointed out that the weight of litter is very difficult to estimate due to the patchiness of debris in this expansive area, but could be in the order of 6 million tonnes.

My officials attend the meetings of several international agencies where the reduction of litter in the marine environment is discussed and where appropriate actions are considered, particularly the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic in which the UK is actively involved in the marine litter working group, which focuses on the North East Atlantic.