Press Release on the Marine Litter Action Forum

Organized by the EU H2020-funded Black Sea CONNECT CSA, Marine Litter Action Forum took place on 14-15 November 2022 in İstanbul, Türkiye.

Aiming to present the actions already in place for existing and new initiatives and projects in order to best coordinate all efforts towards a common approach at the transboundary level and pave the way for future cutting-edge actions on marine litter pollution in the Black Sea, the event is also planned to involve ministries, regional leaders, general secretaries for research and technology, funding agencies, water directors, and interested companies and NGOs.

There was a great turnout of over 200 physical and online participants in total in science, policy, and industry from Black Sea countries and Europe who have a vision and interest in providing unique contributions to a clean and plastic-free Black Sea.

The event kick-started with the opening remarks of Black Sea CONNECT coordinator Baris Salihoglu, who stressed the necessity of sustainable solutions and innovative actions to combat marine pollution in the Black Sea. Salihoglu also remarked SRIA as the scientific pillar of CMA and noted the H2020 BRIDGE-BS and DOORS projects as its implementors, which are vital for the Black Sea Basin.

Moving forward to the opening session, Elizabetta Balzi, Head of Unit of the DG Research and Innovation, highlighted the Mission Ocean and Pilot  Lighthouses such as the Baltic, Med, Danube river basin including the Black Sea, and Atlantic, and Arctic Coast. By proposing a very inspiring slogan “Rather than what the Black Sea has done for you, think about what you can do for the Mission Black Sea!”, Balzi also congratulated METU-IMS for endorsing the Mission Ocean.

Shortly after, participants had the chance to listen to Christos Economou, Head of Unit, DG Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries. Emphasizing in particular that EU efforts will continue, Economou also touched on the Black Sea CONNECT’s contribution to CMA with solution-oriented and multi-methodological approaches. The opening session continued with the speech of H.E. Ambassador Lazăr Comãnescu, Secretary General, Permanent International Secretariat of the BSEC, who noted that “The Black Sea has an unjustified reputation as the most polluted sea basin, which is unfair.” But he still expressed hope that goodwill and wisdom will prevail to overcome the challenges in the region. The session ended with Iryna Makarenko, Pollution Monitoring and Assessment Officer of the Black Sea Commission. After outlining the efforts of The Permanent Secretariat of the Black Sea Commission, Makarenko underlined the need for national pilot actions to take actions one step further and the need to engage with the public.

Moderated by Vangelis Papathanassiou of METU-IMS, the first session focused on Marine Litter in the Black Sea have begun with the motivating speech of Sigi Gruber, Active Senior Adviser of the European Commission. In her speech, Gruber shared the different EU programmes that support marine pollution-related Research and Innovation, emphasized the importance of science to tackle the plastic problem, and the funding opportunities under Mission Ocean. The session also provided specific works of experts; Ulgen Aytan of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University and Christos Ioakeimidis of UNEP/MAP. While Aytan was introducing “Plaston” as a new term she coined from PLAStic and plankTON: Now an inseparable component of marine life, Ioakeimidis has exemplified marine litter action plan paradigms in other sea basins as well as the previous experience at COP22 as a great practice that aims to lighten the possible solutions to the litter-free Mediterranean. Once and for all, Salome Kobaidze, Elena Culighin, and Selma Menabit pitched their actions, awareness-raising campaigns, and activities as Black Sea Young Ambassadors alongside introducing the programme.

The day followed with the Plastic Circularity session moderated by Olgac Guven of Akdeniz University. Given the worrying facts of increased production of plastic led by packaging and the global increase of marine plastic pollution, Nilgun Kiran Ciliz of Bogazici University underlined the possibility of having more plastics than fish by 2050. Shortly after, George Triantafyllou of HCMR presented the journey of recycled plastic and stressed that there are ocean-friendly companies that remove plastic from oceans and transform them into new products. While coming to the end of the 1st day of the MLAF, Feng Wang of the UNEP and Shardul Agrawala of OECD took to the floor to convey the scientific and public interest in plastic pollution and concerns to human and environmental health as well as the potential solutions to eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastic, including hazardous additives.

After the interactive discussions, productive dialogues, and highly informative presentations that took place on the first day were summarized by Mamuka Gvilava and Nina Dzhembekova, the MLAF started on the second day with the presentation of Good Practices session moderated by Irina Stanciu from GEOECOMAR. Starting with Black Sea React!, Rositsa Stoeva of BSEC PERMIS gave details about the project’s contribution to the regional dialogue on mitigating and effectively tackling marine pollution and marine litter, while at the same time seeking innovative solutions to salient problems. Furthermore, Fedra Francocci of CNR presented BlueMed Initiative highlighting its priority of countries’ cooperation to tackle marine litter. The day followed with the pitches of the MAELSTROM project focuses on smart technologies for sustainable removal and management of marine litter by  Luis R. Vieira from CIIMAR and the LitOUTer project proposed as another good practice by Fatma Telli Karakoç from Karadeniz Technical University Giving the example of HCMR’s spin-off, George Triantaphyllidis from MINDS introduced their works for the sustainable blue economy and marine litter depollution. Introducing the citizen science project Plastic Pirates which aims to encourage young generations to support scientists, Milen Baltov of Burgas Free University also shared the activities of the “Go Europe: European Research Area funded pilot citizen science campaign” where young people aged 7-16 years old investigating plastic pollution in and at European rivers, oceans, and seas. Finally, with the presentation of Kamel Labibes from Ayam Sailing Europeparticipants could learn more about Erasmus Maris which gives room for students to learn more about the marine environment and understand how to preserve it with different activities.

The event concluded with a roundtable panel consisting of the newly established Operational Network of Funders of the Black Sea SRIA, an initiative facilitated by Black Sea CONNECT. In the roundtable moderated by Black Sea CONNECT Co-Coordinator Mustafa Yucel, ONF representatives of 4 countries including Türkiye, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Moldova, and Viktor Komorin, a Ukrainian representative from the scientific community, gave valuable insights on the implementation of Litter solutions in their countries. In the first round, from the point of view of their national initiatives, regulations, and experiences; they have outlined how the marine litter (ML) issue is currently affecting their communities, business sectors, and efforts for making the Black Sea healthier. In the second round, they have put forward proposals for their country’s specific solution needs, and current national programs and/or plans that address directly or indirectly the ML issue.

Besides the science and research aspect of marine pollution, MLAF also drew attention to the issue with artistic side events. Attendees could have a chance to see stunning art pieces from the waste collected from the seas in the marine litter awareness-raising exhibition “Yüzleşme/Confrontation” by Şinasi Yelkenci. Moreover, a photograph exhibition comprised of the winners and selected photographs from the Photo Contest “Visual Storytelling of the Black Sea: Different Shores, Different Reflections, and One Sea”, driven as part of the awareness-raising campaign of the Black Sea Young Ambassadors, took place with the participation of one of the winners, Tolga Taymaz. Last, but not least, MLAF showcased several projects, research, and good practices in the posters session where attendees could hear about different studies that conduct research on plastic waste, marine litter, and the marine environment as well as the story of the investment startup Tene that produces eco-friendly USB cables.

With all these informative, eye-opening, visionary, innovative, and at the same time constructive components, the MLAF event ended with a wrap-up summarising of Baris Salihoglu with particular stress on peace as a demand in the Black Sea Region to conduct more effective research and science for a better future of our seas and oceans.