Will COVID-19 Containment and Treatment Measures Drive Shifts in Marine Litter Pollution?
The persistence and global presence of plastic materials in both aquatic (Andrady, 2011; Akindele et al., 2019) and terrestrial ecosystems (Al-Jaibachi et al., 2018) has resulted in the conception of a new era—“The Plasticene” (Reed, 2015). The idea of a “Plasticene” era has been receiving growing support in recent years as research confirms the long-term persistence of plastic pollution and contaminants in the marine environment and suggests that discarded plastics can be traceable through future fossil records (Corcoran et al., 2014). Researchers are still finding new forms of plastic pollution and contamination worldwide (Gestoso et al., 2019; Haram et al., 2020), but one thing is clear: tackling plastic pollution in the marine environment requires concerted strategies and strong actions from policy makers and stakeholders on a global scale. Indeed, several efforts are already in place at the international, regional, and national levels, with several instruments [e.g., United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Regional Sea Programme, and the European Union Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)] being developed in recent decades to reduce and manage marine litter (Chen, 2015).
The incessant and growing delivery of plastic trash and debris to our oceans is recognized now as one of the most relevant pollution problems across the planet, impacting marine life through its ingestion, entanglement, or suffocation (Kühn et al., 2015; Rochman et al., 2016; Villarrubia-Gómez et al., 2018). In addition, marine litter is now considered a growing vector for the introduction of non-indigenous species with transoceanic rafting, potentially amplifying species invasions at a global scale (Carlton et al., 2017) and can promote microbial colonization by pathogens implicated in outbreaks of coral disease (Lamb et al., 2018).
In recent years, discussions and debates regarding marine litter have intensified around the globe. Governments, industries, scientists, and the public are increasingly seeking strategies and policies to respond to marine plastic pollution by reducing or banning single-use plastic (SUP) (Chen, 2015; Newman et al., 2015; European Commission, 2018; Tiller et al., 2019; UNEP–United Nations Environment Programme, 2019). In 2018 alone, environmental actions have reached hundreds of millions of people, with countries and several companies making commitments to ban SUP, which estimates suggest will represent 80% of all marine litter, by 2025 (UNEP–United Nations Environment Programme, 2019).