Protect Sri Lankan Waters from Plastic Pellet Spills

Protect Sri Lankan Waters from Plastic Pellet Spills

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The Pearl Protectors started this petition to The State Ministry of Coast Conservation and Low-Lying Lands Development and

The MV X-Press Pearl maritime disaster spilled an estimated 75 billion plastic pellets into Sri Lankan waters, causing the largest nurdle spill that the world has seen thus far.

Being lightweight and buoyant, the pellets have spread across the western, southern and northwestern coasts, turning Sri Lanka’s picturesque beaches into wastelands. In due course, this is bound to become a regional problem as the pellets could make landfall in other Indian Ocean countries.

Plastic pellets, also colloquially referred to as ‘nurdles’, are the building blocks of nearly all plastic products. What makes them most problematic is their size, as they are introduced to the environment as microplastics (plastics that are generally 5mm or less in size) and go on to pollute even before they serve any purpose as completed plastic products.

Improper transfer and storage can result in these pre-production blocks of plastic items being released into the environment at any stage of the plastic chain, from the production process to shipping. An estimated 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

When plastic pellets spill into the ocean, they absorb pollutants such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the water and become toxic. Marine animals consume the pellets by mistaking them for food such as fish eggs and the toxic chemicals inside can leach out and bioaccumulate in their cells and tissues.

The ingestion of nurdles alone could block their digestive tracts. Even particles as small as 5mm could push these animals further to the brink of extinction as microplastics and chemicals can be passed from one trophic level to the next throughout the food chain.

The nurdles and other microplastics can also have long-term effects on sea turtle nesting beaches, by potentially altering the temperature and permeability of sand. This would impact sea turtle populations, as the gender of hatchlings is temperature-dependent.

The images of nurdles lodged in the gills and mouths of fish caused public concerns about the safety of seafood consumption, concurrently impacting the fisheries that significantly contribute to Sri Lanka's economy. Overall effects of the ship disaster severely affected the income of fisherfolk who were already struggling due to COVID-19 containment measures.

Cleaning up plastic pellets continues to be an uphill task, months after the disaster. The process of removing nurdles requires time, manpower and various tools to separate the plastic pellets that are embedded in the sand. It becomes even more difficult to remove nurdles as they tend to discolour and fragment into nanoparticles over time. Further, the collected nurdles are too weathered and toxic to be used for the production of plastic items. 

Once spilled, removing every pellet from the marine and coastal environment is impracticable. Hence, measures must be taken internationally and domestically to prevent plastic pellet pollution at the source with laws and regulations, to ensure that nurdles are packaged, stored and transported with high precaution.

Currently, there are no legislative and regulatory provisions to address plastic pellets in Sri Lanka. Although Sri Lanka is a signatory to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes, the Annexes from I to VI of MARPOL have not yet been fully incorporated into parliamentary legislation. 

This petition calls for the issuance of domestic regulations to control plastic pellets in Sri Lanka, formulation of a contingency plan to effectively contain plastic pellet spills from ships and the effective incorporation of MARPOL into parliamentary legislation.

Additionally, the petition also calls for the ratification of other relevant international conventions such as the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC), International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea (HNS) and International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC). 

To further prevent plastic pellet pollution at the source, the petition also calls for the strict enforcement of existing bans on single-use plastics and to expedite the process of banning or regulating other problematic single-use plastics and primary microplastics such as microbeads.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!
At 1,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!