Kenya has joined 40 other countries across the world in the fight against ocean and sea pollution as part of interventions to roll back the consequences of an increasingly polluted planet.
The country signed to take part in the United Nations Environment #CleanSeas campaign that aims at countering the torrents of plastic trash degrading oceans and seas and endangering the life they sustain.
The 40 countries within coastal lines, from Kenya to Indonesia and Canada to Brazil, account for more than half of the world’s coastline.
The three-day UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) that ended on Wednesday at Gigiri, Nairobi, challenged countries to ban plastic bags as part of measures towards a clean environment.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said Kenya’s marine ecosystem had been spared by the plastic ban effected this year.
“Every year, tonnes of polythene bags and other waste is collected from oceans, especially during coastal clean-up days,” said Prof Wakhungu.
She said the oceans were littered with all types of polythene bags, which were found in marine animals’ stomachs.
About eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean yearly, according to the UN Environment Department.
The plastics endanger fish and birds and other creatures, who mistake it for food or become entangled in it.
Plastic waste has also entered the human food chain with health consequences that are not yet fully understood. It also harms tourist destinations and provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying diseases, including dengue and Zika.
UN Environment head Erik Solheim said the countries supporting CleanSeas are showing the leadership needed in order to end ocean abuse and protect the marine resources on which millions depend for their livelihoods.
“The #CleanSeas campaign aims to “turn the tide on plastic” by inspiring action from governments, businesses and individuals on ocean pollution,” he said.
During the assembly, some countries heeded Kenya’s call for plastic ban and announced their support for the UN Environment’s CleanSeas campaign.
When he addressed the delegates, President Uhuru Kenyatta rallied other nations to ban plastics.
“Let me take this opportunity to thank the many countries and organisations that sent us messages of support and encouragement in the pursuit of the ban on plastic carrier bags. We are proud of this achievement and we hope that our example will inspire other countries too,” said the president.
Countries like Sri Lanka, Chile and South Africa committed themselves to ban plastic bags.
They also committed to fight against marine litter and ocean pollution, and announced measures including drives to increase recycling in their respective countries.
“For too long, we have treated the ocean as a bottomless dumping ground for plastic, sewage and other waste,” said Mr Solheim.
Sri Lanka Minister for Environment Anura Dissanayake said the country is taking bold action to turn the tide on plastics.
“We have banned plastic bags and are now working to reduce the number of plastic bottles in the country. We want to be a green and blue beacon of hope in Asia and do everything we can to keep the seas clean,” he said.
Mr Dissanayake said Sri Lanka will implement a ban on single-use plastic products from January 2018, step up the separation and recycling of waste, and set the goal of making its ocean and coasts “pollution-free” by 2030.