A new review of marine plastic research in Southeast Asia by NUS researchers shows that scientific research is lagging behind, but the interest in microplastics exceeds that of international and regional bodies and initiatives.


At the recent 34th ASEAN Summit, Asean leaders agreed to strengthen actions at national level, as well as through collaborative actions among ASEAN Member States and partners to prevent and significantly reduce marine debris, particularly from land-based activities. In addition, they welcome the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris of the Special Ministerial Meeting on Marine Debris held on 5 March 2019 in Bangkok, and encourage the ASEAN Member States to timely implement the Framework.

For the full statement, you can read it here.

Ministers and representatives responsible for natural resources, environment and marine affairs from the ASEAN Member States, met in Bangkok, Thailand, on 5 March 2019 to attend the Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Marine Debris (SAMM-MD). The Meeting was chaired by H.E. General Surasak Karnjanarat, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand. Credits: ASEAN.org.

The Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region, the first of its kind, emphasises Asean’s concern over the rising level of marine debris – from the overwhelming presence of marine plastic litter to an urgency in understanding the impacts of microplastics on people’s health. The Declaration is said to focus more on (plastic) waste management through the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris.

But activists from GreenPeace are petitioning for stronger approach in dealing with the growing waste problem. No Space for Waste – ASEAN” is a currently ongoing petition organised by GreenPeace, addressed to the leaders of ASEAN calling on them to end the imports of plastic waste from overseas, and cut down productions of single-use plastics.

“No Space for Waste” – Petition by GreenPeace.

The problem of marine plastics is a growing one, and will continue to be an issue under the global spotlight. It is of no surprise, given the potential negative health impacts they have on people. A new study by the University of Newcastle found that on average people could be ingesting roughly 5 grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card!

New research commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found that people could be consuming approximately 5g of plastic weekly, which amounts to about 250g annually. Credits: ST Photo by Lim Yaohui.

With this urgency, there is an increasing interest to pursue the issues of marine plastics on both the science and policy fronts. To find out what we know or don’t know about marine plastic research, a team of us from the National University of Singapore (Centre for International Law and Tropical Marine Science Institute) thus produced a report on the state of marine plastic research in Southeast Asia (SEA), in collaboration and support from the British High Commission Singapore and UK Science & Innovation Network.

Screenshot 2019-06-30 at 2.22.52 PM

It is our hope that this report will be useful to scientists, policy-makers, and other practitioners in SEA, in understanding the current knowledge and gaps in research, as well as policy-based actions. Therefore, help to chart the near-future goals in handling the global marine plastic problem better through scientific inquiry of knowledge gaps, which will help in drafting effective science-based policies.

The comprehensive report is freely available here. For a quick overview, you can read the comparative findings in the Executive Summary.

For more information about this work, or feedback to us, please send to us at: younalyons@nus.edu.sg

Further readings:

  • NUS, 1 July 2019: A review of research on marine plastics in Southeast Asia: Who does what?
  • UK in Singapore, 28 June 2019: A review of research on marine plastics in SEA: Who does what?
  • MongaBay.com, 27 June 2019: Southeast Asian countries pledge to tackle marine plastic waste crisis
  • Eco-Business, 26 June 2019: Encouraging start, but ASEAN has to go beyond its pledge to tackle marine waste
  • GreenPeace, 24 June 2019: GreenPeace Statement on the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN region and ASEAN Framework on Marine Debris
  • The Straits Times, 23 June 2019: ASEAN adopts pact to cut marine waste
  • The Straits Times, 20 June 2019: Protesters in Thailand urge ASEAN leaders to ban trash imports
  • GreenPeace, 20 June 2019: ASEAN leaders welcomed by “mountain of trash” and calls to ban plastic and e-waste imports
  • The Straits Times, 13 June 2019: People could be ingesting 5g of plastic a week
  • WWF Singapore, 12 June 2019: Plastic ingestion by humans could equate to eating a credit card a week