24 Oct 2017 Story Oceans & seas

UN Environment supports massive beach clean-ups on Panama’s coasts

The Month of Oceans, which has been celebrated for in Panama for 13 years, aims to raise awareness about the urgent need to change the way we treat oceans. This year’s event has had a vibrant agenda, including dozens of beach clean-ups, marine bird counting, art contests, and a triathlon in the coastal city of Coronado.

On 24 September, certified divers from universities and diving schools removed waste from the bottom of the sea near La Guaira, a Caribbean community in the Portobelo National Park. Local volunteers classified the materials and compiled a report about its composition to the Ocean Conservancy’s database.

The Portobelo National Park, located in Panama’s Colon province, has extensive coral reefs and mangroves and is home to hundreds of marine species. These resources and golden sand beaches surrounded by dense rainforest enchant thousands of tourists, especially weekend travelers from Panama’s major cities.

Booming tourism in the region has contributed to the growth of towns such as La Guaira and its neighbor Isla Grande. However, the growth in tourist numbers has not been accompanied by an expansion of public services, a situation that affects environment and specifically the sea, which receives untreated wastewater and uncollected solid waste.

UN Environment contributed to the Portobelo clean-up, one of the most significant activities of Panama’s annual Month of Oceans crusade. This initiative was organized by local foundation Promar and other organizations that promote alignment with the global CleanSeas campaign.

“For years we have considered the oceans some sort of landfill, but this must stop. The health of our planet is at stake, and we depend on the welfare of the seas and their creatures,” said Leo Heileman, UN Environment’s Regional Director of UN Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean, who participated in the clean-up.

Human production and consumption habits are driving tons of waste into the seas – in Panama, and around the world. In order to dramatically change this situation, the CleanSeas campaign aims to mobilize countries, the private sector and citizens towards a drastic reduction of single-use plastic such as straws, bottles and cutlery. Thirty countries have joined the CleanSeas campaign, ten of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Peru, Saint Lucia and Uruguay.

Panama, a country with almost 3,000 kilometers of coast in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, was the first in Latin America and the Caribbean to join the CleanSeas campaign. The country is pushing for comprehensive reforms that will improve its relationship with oceans.

One of these initiatives is a national plan to optimize waste management, a project supported by UN Environment. Currently, 42 per cent of 4,372 tons of waste produced daily in the country end up in places like rivers or the sea, according to a recent assessment by the local solid waste disposal authority.

In August, the National Assembly (Congress) approved a plastic bag ban, which aims to reduce the use of a product that can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. The law must still be endorsed by the President Juan Carlos Varela.

The Month of Oceans is organized by the Ministry of Environment, other government institutions, businesses, and organizations like MarViva, Promar, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the local Audubon Society, the Panama Canal or the subway authority Metro de Panamá.

Pollution is the theme of the 2017 United Nations Environment Assembly, which is meeting in Nairobi from 4 to 6 December. Sign the pledge and help us #BeatPollution around the world. Together, we can clean up the planet.