The UN’s Ocean Conference backs sustainable development of the seas

The Ocean Conference is happening at the United Nations in New York City from 5 – 9 June, to coincide with World Ocean Day on 8 June.

The Ocean Conference is the first of its kind at the United Nations, focusing on reversing the declining health of our oceans and on implementing  Sustainable Development Goal 14 which is a call to conserve and use sustainably the oceans, seas and marine life.

Representatives of governments, financial institutions, non-government organisations, academic institutions, the scientific community, as well as the private sector, philanthropic organisations have all come together to assess all opportunities relating Goal 14.

Thames Estuary Partnership project partners on the #OneLess campaign – the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean – are attending the Ocean Conference to promote #OneLess. They successfully hosted a packed-out side event on Monday 5 June to discuss the issue of marine plastic pollution.

The #OneLess campaign is a rapidly growing movement of pioneering and progressive individuals, communities, businesses, NGOs and policymakers together aiming to reduce the amount of single-use plastic water bottles entering the ocean from the city of London.

London is a coastal city, linked to the ocean via the tidal river Thames which flows 95 miles through London from its tidal limit at Teddington in West London into the North Sea. Along its length many freshwater rivers drain into it, bringing water down from the upland areas of the river basin.

The River Thames built our city through maritime trade linking the UK to the rest of the world. The Thames remains a vibrant working river, bustling daily with freight, passenger ferries, tourist ferries and recreational boats.

Every day thousands of people walk along its banks sampling the many venues, attractions, cafes and restaurants. Outside of the city centre many find tranquillity along the Thames Path and foreshore mud-larking, or simply watching the world go by.

The Thames is equally vital for wildlife. It is home to the most nationally significant fish nursery areas in the North Sea and more than 300,000 birds that fly here from Africa for the winter. Over 125 species of fish call the Thames home, with many needing to use the river as a migration corridor travelling from the ocean to freshwater upstream as part of their life cycle. Marine mammals follow the fish in with two species of seal using the outer estuary as breeding grounds and harbour porpoise using the river to feed.

Coastal communities in Essex and Kent rely on the Thames for tourism, commercial fisheries, renewable energy and it’s home to the second largest port in the country. Through this link to the ocean and the wealth of industry, heritage and community life it has brought, London has developed into one of the greatest cities in the world.

The capital’s population is expected to grow, on current projections, from today’s 8.6 million people to 10 million by 2035. With the current size and this expected growth comes equal pressure and challenges to the natural environment. Coupled with the threat from climate change, our mighty Thames is under immense pressure from development and pollution from across the Greater London area and beyond.

One highly visible and preventable pollutant is litter; every day the Thames delivers our litter to the ocean adding to the ever-increasing amount from the around the world.  Every day, single-use plastic water bottles are finding their way into the River Thames. In 2016, the #OneLess project team and partners picked up over 10,000 single-use plastic bottles, of which more than 46% were water bottles.

Litter can stay in the water for up to three months because of the way the river moves. Once there it constantly degrades from wave action, sediment erosion, sun exposure and saltwater effects. So, not just large pieces of litter which you can easily see, but the tiny microplastic particles caused by the plastic breaking down, are also entering our ocean from the city.

In London and the UK, we are lucky to have arguably the best drinking water in the world supplied directly to us, everywhere we go, through our taps. We don’t need to buy and drink water from single-use plastic bottles.

All we need is the will and a more publicly accessible infrastructure (such as drinking water fountains) to support the refill revolution, much of which already exists. You just have to know where it is or be willing to ask for a refill.

See Give Me Tap for an app with a map of cafes and restaurants where you can fill up for free.

All across London, and now at the UN Ocean Conference, people are joining the refill revolution, either by personally pledging to use a refillable water bottle, instead of hundreds of wasteful single-use bottles, or by working to create a refill culture in their workplaces and communities.

We at TEP are committed to the refill revolution and urge everyone to take the pledge at OneLessBottle.org to stop using single-use plastic water bottles, please use a refillable bottle and help make our Thames and ocean healthier for all.