Marine litter and animal welfare: WSPA’s interest and involvement

Although the conservation and environmental impacts of marine litter are gaining increasing attention, the effects on individual animals remain poorly understood and unaddressed. This is despite litter being acknowledged as one of the most significant animal welfare problems in the oceans.

This is why WSPA is developing a new global campaign to address the animal welfare impacts of marine litter. Our campaign will work to prevent the suffering caused when marine animals become entangled in or choked by our dangerous rubbish. The Untangled symposium was developed as a global forum for expert discussion, to enable identification of the key animal welfare problems associated with marine litter and the best solutions to them, and to inform the focus and approach of WSPA’s new campaign.

WSPA’s six core objectives for the symposium were:

  • To introduce the need for marine litter to be considered a major global animal welfare problem which governments, industry and the public will all play a role in solving
  • To inform the focus of our campaign (type of litter, key countries/regions) by identifying the most severe and urgent animal welfare problems
  • To inform the approach of our campaign by seeking expert input on the most feasible and best practice solutions to the problems identified
  • To identify major knowledge gaps on the impact of marine litter on animals, to inform recommendations for research
  • To identify current communications gaps on this issue amongst stakeholders, as well as solutions for moving forwards
  • To create a forum for discussion amongst a range of international experts on this topic, including academics, NGOs, industry and policy makers, in order to share ideas, experiences and best practice models.

A global problem

Prior to the symposium, to capture current knowledge from published and grey literature, WSPA commissioned animal welfare scientist and veterinarian Dr Andrew Butterworth (University of Bristol, UK) to produce a global status review report.

This report, entitled Untangled – Marine debris: A global picture of the impact on animal welfare and of animal focussed solutions (2012), looks at the marine litter issue from the unique perspective of the threat that it poses to the welfare of animals.

It considers the likely harms caused by key litter types, looks at the different species affected and provides some estimates of the numbers of animals harmed. Some inspiring solutions to the problem of marine litter are also showcased.