Authors: Prakash Sharma and Partha Pratim Mitra*
The rampant consumption of Earth for its resources has caused massive alterations to its responsive ecosystem. Humans desires have separated themselves from the mutual well-being of the other living and non-living entities of the planet. Human needs following various generations of industrial revolution has only resulted in accumulation of piles and piles of waste and pollution. The inefficient development model has invaded the ecological habitats of “others”.
Every year June 08 is celebrated as World Ocean Day. During the 1992 Earth’s submit, Canada proposed the concept of a World Ocean Day. Since then, there have been remarkable measures adopted to this project of Ocean protection. The focus of this year’s Ocean Day celebration centers around the spirit of “together we can”. humanity finds itself confronting with many issues including COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and poisoned plastic. The rise of contagious diseases like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Zika virus, Ebola etc. are all result of self-consuming model. Perhaps, it reveals the manner in which development has only resulted in manipulating animals and plants, with no integrity or care for their health. In fact, the response during pandemic is no different. For plastic industry, pandemic is seen as an advantage to push suspensions or rollbacks of hard-won environmental measures of reducing plastic pollution. The argument is to follow caution and ensure that the pandemic does not results in epidemic. It in these lines the present writeup outlines various legal instruments entered amongst nation-states; and thereby argues for re-evaluating existing human practices to ensure crucial changes to the health and sustenance of marine ecosystem.
Early Initiative: Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, 1958
The Convention of Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, 1958 is an agreement that was designed to solve through international cooperation the problems involved in the conservation of high seas, considering that because of the development of modern technology some of these resources are in danger of being overexploited. The Convention took place at Geneva on April 29, 1958 under the auspices of United Nations forproblems involved in the conservation of the living resources of the high seas due to development of modern techniques for the exploitation of the living resources of the sea and man’s ability to meet the need of the world’s expanding population for food which has exposed some of these resources to the danger of being over-exploited. The original convention consisting 22 Articles mainly restricting fishing activities of member countries within their territorial seas. It entered into force on 20 March 1966 and at present there are 38 signatories to the convention.
Conventions for Prevention of Marine Pollution during 1970s
The legal framework was also structured to control the marine pollution and conserve the wildlife in marine ecosystem during the period of 1970s. The marine pollution awareness generated after the industrial development in the western countries and mainly after the disasters of Torrey Canyon, a Liberian oil vessel, caused huge damage in marine life of British coasts in 1967, and Santa Barbara near California suffered a huge ecological loss after a blow out of an oil well in 1969. People realized the necessity of strict provision to control oil pollution to protect the marine life and Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircrafts, 1974(Oslo Convention)was introduced to cope with marine pollution in international level. It modified previous Convention for Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil, 1954and subsequent international efforts were often triggered by major oil spills such as the accidents involving the Torrey Canyon in 1967, the Amoco Cadiz in 1978, the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Prestige in 2002.
The Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, was originally signed in 1974,for the protection of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution from land, air and sea and also to take measures on conserving habitats and biological diversity and for the sustainable use of marine resources. The original Convention was signed by Denmark, Finland, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Poland, Sweden and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and subsequently was updated in 1992 by Estonia, the European Union, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.
Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution, 1976and came into force in 1978, was the legal framework implemented through the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), which aims to protect the Mediterranean Sea basin. Three additional legal instruments i.e. Protocol on pollution from land-based sources, 1980, Protocol concerning Specifically Protected Areas, 1982 and Offshore Protocol, 1994 were adopted by this convention. The contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention included measures to prevent the deterioration of the Mediterranean coast in 1995 and now it is known as Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean came into force on July 9, 2004.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, Bonn, 1979 (CMS) assumes relevance in the context of marine migratory species and its Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, adopted about “marine debris” on 2011 Bergen, Norway. Here, marine debris negatively impacts substantial numbers of migratory marine wildlife, including many species of birds, turtles, sharks and marine mammals that are threatened with extinction;
Major pollution accidents in the recent past have created another exception to the exclusiveness of flag State jurisdiction on the high seas, in favour of States whose coastline is threatened with serious pollution damage from a foreign shipping casualty. This right gained rapid recognition after the British action against the American tanker, the Torrey Canyon in 1967 which led to the adoption of the International Convention on Intervention on the High Seas, 1969 in case of Oil Pollution Damage, and ultimately found entry into theLaw of the Sea Convention, 1982 (UNCLOS).
The ship borne wastes generated during normal operation are regulated bytheOslo Convention. But this Convention is not globally applicable and is limited essentially to the North-East Atlantic area. The banned dumping wastes cannot be regulated by the Basel Convention for Transboundary movement of Hazardous Wastes, 1989. In this regard, the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matters, 1972 (London Convention), is an important international instrument for protection of marine resources and marine biodiversity against the disposal of wastes into the seas.
In 1983, Pacific Island nations proposed an immediate ban on the dumping of nuclear waste into the sea. They made their proposal before the authority established under the London Convention for regulating the sea pollution caused by dumping. The London Convention is a global Convention and is wider than the Oslo Convention. After the 1996 London Protocol, the dumping of all wastes are prohibited and it completely prohibits incineration at sea and the dumping of industrial wastes.
UN Convention on the Law of Sea, 1982
The UNCLOS is the foundation for the modern law relating to international fisheries.It conferred on the nationals of all states the right to engage in fishing on the high seas but this right is subject to their treaty obligations and the rights and duties as well as the interests of the coastal states. All states have the duty to take or to cooperate with other states in taking measures for their respective nationals as may be necessary for the conservation of the living resources of the high seas.
The UNCLOS specifically addresses some categories like highly migratory species, namely tuna, marlin, sailfish, swordfish, dolphin, shark and cetacea listed in Annex I. Then marine mammal’s category includes 12 species including great whales which were previously hunted near extinction, as well as small cetaceans, dolphins, porpoises, seals, dugongs and marine otters. Next categories, Anadromous species which are spawned in freshwater rivers but spend the major part of their lives at sea passing through territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zone and High Seas and Catadromous species are spawned at sea and send major part of their lives in rivers and lakes.
In particular, the UNCLOS attributes jurisdiction over conservation and use of marine living resources within the various marine zones, and also sets forth certain basic conservation principles applicable therein, within the territorial sea, states have traditionally enjoyed exclusive rights to fisheries as part of the exercise of sovereignty there. In Section 2 of Part IX (Articles 116 to 120) deals with the provisions relating to ‘Management and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas’ and Part XII (Articles 192 to 237) totally deal with ‘Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment’ including Enforcement, Safeguard and International rules to prevent and control marine environment pollution.
Initiatives during 1990’s and onwards
In a ministerial meeting in September 1992, representatives of Oslo Convention and Paris Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-based Sources, 1974 adopted a new Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, 1992 also known as OSPAR Convention.
Likewise, the Washington Declaration on Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities held on November 1995 for affirming the need and will to protect and preserve the marine environment for present and future generations and also reaffirming the relevant provisions of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992. This process included among others a week-long meeting of government designated experts, focusing on the Montreal Guidelines for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources of Pollution, 1985.
Recently, International Maritime Organization amended the Annexure V of International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) dealing with “Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships” which will prohibit the discharge of all garbage from ships into the sea from January 1, 2013.In March 2019, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) adopted Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, Nairobi for retaining the high quality of the coastal and marine environment for ecosystem functions and services in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas, and marine resources. It has the plan to implement Bali Declaration, 2018 and Manila Declaration, 2012 for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities which identified nutrient, wastewater and marine litter as priority source categories of marine pollution.
Indian Position on Prevention of Marine Pollution
There is no specific regional convention for South Asian Seas among India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives. The UNCLOS is the only primary legal instrument for guidance. But India ratified various marine safety conventions and has amended the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 several times to develop and maintain Indian shipping law in the line of international mercantile marine law and Part XB deals with ‘Civil liability for oil pollution damage’.The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 under section 15(2)(e) has vested the power to the Central Government to make rules preservation and protection of the marine environment and prevention and control of marine pollution for the purposes of this Act.The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2018 has also provision for prevention of coastal pollution.
Marine Pollution: Concerns for our Oceans
The United Nation estimates that 13 million tons of plastic are dumped in the sea each year and that half of the plastic produced globally is for single-use items. According to a WWF Report, “if just 1% of the masks were disposed of incorrectly and dispersed in nature, this would result in as many as 10 million mask per month polluting the environment.” The Report further stipulates that “considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams, this would result in the dispersion of more than 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature.”
Does it mean the biodegradable plastic would act as the better solution? Many suggests that more than plastic solutions, there is a greater need for all waste to be disposed of properly. It is argued that the exposure of biodegradable plastic to different environments showed that “some items disappeared quickly, while you could still shop in some of these bags after four years in the sea. By the time they get to the sea, it’s too late.”
Ocean for time immemorial is the source of human prosperity and development through navigation, research, fishing and many others. Protection of oceanic resources and marine ecosystems are very necessary for human’s own survival. As the world is engulfed with unmindful response to COVID-19 pandemic, one could fairly assume that there will be ‘still talks’ and ‘no response’. Earths capacity to support human desires are limited and the talks of nature’s response are somewhat misdirected. For instance, for all the development in science and awareness formed against use of plastic, the COVID-19 pandemic experience only puts us back to square one. It yet again proved that we depend on plastic. Can world afford to move backwards? Present times have conveyed us that there is a greater need for collective efforts in order to bring sustainable alternatives. Yes, ‘together we can’, but, if we are serious and want to take thoughtful actions ‘it is now’!
*The author has written three books on environmental laws.