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Should seas have standing? : a critical study of plastic marine debris and pollution laws in international and South African law.

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Historically, the ocean was considered to be inexhaustible and impervious to harm. However, we now find the oceans to be susceptible to such harm and in a fragile state as a result of anthropogenic influences. Ocean pollution is predominantly due to land-based marine pollution (about 80%) and the lion’s share is due to plastics. Plastics, although convenient and cheap, have costly environmental effects. These are associated with their persistence, non-degradability, toxic potential and their devastating physical impacts on the marine ecosystem. The primary research approach for this dissertation has been a literature review which included the use of electronic databases and secondary sources available in libraries. This dissertation critically analyses the adequacy of international and national legislation in addressing the contentious modern issue of plastic marine debris and land-based marine pollution laws. Specific attention is paid to how international legal developments influence the form and nature of national statutes relating to marine pollution. In this analysis an evaluation of several law/policy developments is presented and comments are made pertaining to their various social, economic and political aspects. The limitations identified include the limited jurisdiction over dominant sources of plastic pollution, the lack of enforceable standards and enforcement mechanisms. The research findings show that South Africa contributes to the growing problem of plastic marine debris and that, in spite of the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act 23 of 2008 being a specific statute for the protection of South Africa’s coasts and oceans, plastic marine litter continues to find its way into the ocean and there are no specific regulatory measures in place which address this problem. A major flaw in the Act is that there is no legal definition for land-based marine pollution or marine litter included. As an interim measure it is suggested that the Act should be amended to accommodate such concerns. The African Marine Debris Summit in 2013 and the Green and White Papers on the National Environmental Management of the Ocean are examples of recent policy developments; however, there are no measures in place concerning implementation. The study notes the need for refinement of existing statutes and, recognising the protracted time period it takes to develop binding statutes coupled with the progressive worsening of this problem, concludes that there is a desperate need for interim measures to be taken.


Master of Law in Environmental Law. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2015.


Theses--Environmental law., Environmental law., Marine pollution--Law and legislation., Marine pollution., Marine debris.