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Marine pollution is a combination of chemicals and trash, most of which comes from land sources and is washed or blown into the ocean.

One of the biggest threats to our oceans is land-based pollution. Discarded plastics and other human waste, eventually find their way into the sea with devastating consequences for marine life and the habitats they depend on.

Land-based pollutants have and are still contributing to ocean ‘dead zones’ – areas which can no longer sustain life because they have low or zero oxygen. Currently there are over 500 of these dead zones around the world. Though other factors including shipping accidents and oil spills add additional toxins to the mix, it is estimated that 80 per cent of marine pollution originates on land.

Plastic waste are one of the biggest man-made pollutants in the marine environment. It is estimated that over eight million tonnes of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans each year. According to a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, plastic pollution in the ocean costs society up to $2.5 trillion a year.

The build-up of plastic waste – bottles and cups, plastics found in cigarette filters, straws, polythene etc., mostly ends up in the sea during heavy rain, where it breaks down into smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics. 

The harm caused by plastic pollution is wide ranging. It chokes wildlife above and below the waterline. An estimated one million sea birds and an unknown number of sea turtles die each year as a result of plastic debris clogging their digestive tracts, and marine animals of all sorts can become tangled and incapacitated by discarded fishing lines and plastic bags.

Fish and other marine life ingest microplastics which in turn can find their way into the human food chain. Animals most vulnerable to harm from plastic debris in the ocean include dolphins, fish, sharks, turtles, seabirds and crabs

Key facts
  • More than 220 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year.
  • Recent research has suggested that the amount of discarded plastics will outweigh the amount of fish in our oceans by 2050.
  • 60 -90% of marine pollution is made up of different types of plastic. 
  • In 2006, the UN Environment Programme estimated that every square mile of ocean contained 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
  • A plastic bottle can last up to 450 years in the marine environment.

In Ghana today, sanitation is a serious challenge throughout major cities and commercial areas.

Though the Government, since 2017 had set out an agenda to make the country the cleanest within the sub-region, all indications prove that the situation is actually beyond control.

This has resulted in Government introducing a Sanitation and Pollution Levy of 10 pesewas per litre of petrol/diesel purchased by citizens, in a bid to find solutions to address the problem.

With this, government says it will embark on a number of projects including the re-engineering of landfill sites at Kpone and Oti, the construction of waste recycling and compost plants across the country and the construction of more sanitation facilities to accelerate the elimination of open defecation. 

Despite stiff opposition from the NDC and criticisms from a cross-section of the population – describing it as “Borla Tax”, the Government maintains that the tax will help provide the requisite resources to address the sanitation challenges and fund the activities government has planned, to ensure the country is cleaned.

The recent incidence of some fishes and dolphins which were washed ashore in Accra and Takoradi is a clear indication of the extent to which sanitation is affecting our natural environment/habitat.

Even though the Ministry of Fisheries and Aqua Culture has given stress as the cause, it is still not clear what might have caused the kind of stress that actually led to the death of such a large number of fishes.

Unfortunately, majority of Ghana’s coastal population are either illiterate or semi-literate; making it difficult for them to understand the dangers posed by plastic waste as far as marine pollution is concerned and its impact on marine life, the Ghanaian economy as well as the world at large.

These people rather see the sea as a destination for discarding waste. Many of them still defecate openly at the shores. 

A visit to Teshie revealed the level of filth that is washed into the sea via the drain from Adoemli through Tafo and ends up in the Sango Lagoon and thereafter passed on into the sea. Children and adults including women openly attend to nature’s call in the drain without paying attention to other people who may be passing by. This situation is nothing different from Nungua, La, Chorkor, James Town etc.

Clearly, this is an attitudinal factor which requires multiple approaches including behavior change communication; without which, no amount of measures or interventions will work.

There is the need for a well collaborated public education campaign to sensitize the population, especially, those living along the coastlines about the dangers of plastic waste and their impact on the economy.

These areas include Accra – Nungua, Teshie, La, James Town, Chorkor, Kokrobite, Bortianor, Gomoa Fetteh, Winneba, Apam, Saltpond, Moree, Cape Coast, Takoradi, Tema (New Town), Ningo-Prampram, Keta, Ada etc.

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