Asean countries fight plastic pollution to save migratory birds

Migratory birds. Photo credit: Dante A. Oporto, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Zamboanga Sibugay, DENR Region IX

In celebration of the World Migratory Day, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) is joining the international community in the global fight against plastic pollution.

“Plastic and other marine debris is an issue that transcends nations’ boundaries, as these debris move around the oceans, possibly entering other nations’ waters,” said Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, the center’s executive director, said in a press statement released on October 12.
Lim cited a report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) stating that more than eight million tons of plastic get in the oceans each year – that’s an equivalent to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute.

Each year, the World Migratory Day is celebrated on October 12.  This year’s theme is: “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!”
“Plastic pollution is a serious threat to migratory birds,” Lim pointed out. “One million seabirds around the world die from the effects of plastic every year.”

Currently, 90% of seabirds have plastic in their guts, and this proportion is expected to reach 99% by 2050. “If this trend continues,” Lim deplored, “these birds may not survive the next generations.”

Every year, 50 million waterbirds journey between their northern breeding grounds as far as Arctic Russia to their wintering grounds in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. These birds fly through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), their long-established route as they travel to warmer climates after breeding in the northern regions, and back again during breeding season.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Region is at the heart of this flyway. “Thus, this flyway is significant to these waterbirds’ annual migration,” Lim said.

“As migratory waterbirds are interconnected and interdependent to the network of wetland sites at the EAAF, regional cooperation is critical for their conservation and survival,” she added.
Studies have shown migratory birds to be important in healthy ecosystems as they travel distances and carry seeds from one place to another, one way they link ecosystems together across the world. 

“They are also indicators of how healthy an area’s biodiversity is,” Lim said, adding that the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species data show that at-risk conservation areas for birds also have a significant number of threatened species of plants and animals. 

Thus, it is very important of regional cooperation in protecting migratory birds and their habitats.  “Regional cooperation is essential to address this threat,” Lim pointed out. 

Efforts in the region to reduce plastic pollution and marine debris are gaining traction. Last June, the 10 members has adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region during the 34th ASEAN Summit. 

In signing the Declaration, the heads of state committed to prevent and reduce marine debris using an integrated land-to-sea approach, strengthen national laws and regulations, and enhance regional and international cooperation, including on relevant policy dialogue and information sharing.
For its part, the ACB commends the members for taking measures to reduce single-use plastic in their respective jurisdictions prior to and after the Bangkok Declaration. 

Brunei Darussalam, for one, has enjoined major stores and businesses for its “No Plastic Bag Everyday Initiative,” and is now engaging small businesses and consumers. Cambodia charges for plastic bags to encourage the switch to reusable bags. It is now aiming to attract investments in plastic recycling businesses. Several localities in Indonesia like Bali, Banjarmasin City, Balikpapan City, and more have banned single-use plastic. 

Laos and Myanmar are pushing for plastic alternatives like bamboo straws. Laos encourages the public to use recyclable bags, while Myanmar has banned single-use plastic in its capital city Yangon. Singapore has designated 2019 as the Year of Zero Waste, with a masterplan mapping out its strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. Malaysia aims to phase out drinking straws and plastic carrier bags by 2030. Thailand intends to ban single-use plastic products and styrofoam food containers by 2022, and Vietnam envisions zero non-biodegradable plastic bags by 2026.  At the moment, Vietnam imposes environment tax on plastic bags.

In like manner, different municipalities in the Philippines, including Los Baños, home to the ACB headquarters, have taken the same action. Indonesia also imposes a plastic bag tax.