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Waste disposal at sea: what and where

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As part of the objectives of EMODnet, Waste Disposal at sea is one of the 13 themes of interest when it comes to register Human Activities (HA) with a potential environmental impact at sea or risk for human health. Under the generic denomination of waste disposal: what are we referring to? And where does it take place?

Firstly, we must take into account the London Convention (Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. 1972), later replaced by the London Protocol in 1996. This  convention establishes that Contracting Parties shall prohibit the dumping of any wastes or other matter with the exception of those listed in Annex 1 (Wastes or other matter that may be considered for dumping), among others the “dredged material”.

In the EMODnet-HA context the term waste disposal includes two types of residues: dredge spoil dumping and dumped munitions. On the one hand, dredge spoil makes reference to sediments and other geological materials resulting from dredge works, namely those from port works and coastal infrastructure operations. These are formed principally by silt, sand, and gravel in different proportions, together with stones and rocks depending on the zone of extraction. Differences exist also in the environmental quality and polluting potential of the materials, although no information about these aspects is shown given the disparity of the datasets among countries. That’s why the accessible data have been limited to geographical attributes like code of the site, country, depth, distance from coast, name of the site, status, update year and operative year, that is, where and what type of waste.


On the other hand, according to OSPAR dumped munitions dataset includes conventional munitions such as bombs, grenades, torpedoes and mines as well as phosphorus incendiary devices and chemical munitions containing, for example, mustard gases. Registers show the locations of chemical and conventional munitions remnants used during past wars episodes in Europe, but also, areas used for military shooting drills by member states´ respective navies, operated in very limited areas of their maritime waters.

As it has occurred in other topics, not all countries hold the target data available and data is often managed in different ways. Fragmented data, both for dredge spoil and munitions, have been collected from states sources and from international organisations such as OSPAR, HELCOM and the MEDPOL (United Nations Environmental Program). It should be pointed out that, due to different reasons related to data register and availability at national level, there is a considerable lack of data concerning the Black Sea. More intensive efforts will be made to correct this situation by establishing stronger channels of collaboration with key departments of national administration of the EU Black Sea riverine countries.

Thus, in terms of environmental protection, it is clear the direct relationship between dredge disposal and other topics, like dredging activities -included in H.A portal- since they are in some cases linked. For instance, the material extracted in some port areas is the same that is later placed at specific sites at sea. Besides, dumped munitions suppose a complex risk: environmental, health and safety, as it is a serious threat to human live in case of encounter.

Therefore, according to the European Marine Strategy principles, it is essential to collect data with good quality in order to achieve the best knowledge and so, protect the marine environment and mitigate impacts. With this aim in mind, HA teamwork continues this new phase by collecting new data and updating existing data of what material was disposed and where it’s located in all EU sea basins.

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

September 21st, 2017 | Written by

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