GESAMP: Protection of the Marine Environment


Completed – November 2015

The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), established in 1969, advises the United Nations (UN) on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection. The plastics industry has committed to provide GESAMP with scientific expertise and funding for Group 40, which looks into the sources, fate and effects of micro-plastics in the marine environment.

What is GESAMP?
GESAMP is jointly sponsored by nine UN organizations with responsibilities relating to the marine environment. Their role is to conduct and support marine environmental assessments; to undertake in-depth studies, analyses, and reviews of specific topics; and to identify emerging issues regarding the state of the marine environment. GESAMP itself today consists of 16 experts, drawn from a wide range of relevant disciplines, who act in an independent and individual capacity. Studies and assessments are usually carried out by dedicated working groups which are part of the GESAMP network.

A focus on microplastics
There is a general agreement that the potential impact of micro-plastics ‒ and of the contaminants absorbed by micro-plastics ‒ are poorly known. Further research and monitoring are required to help reduce these uncertainties.

GESAMP can certainly play a crucial role in gathering the relevant expertise (e.g. materials science, oceanography, ecotoxicology, marine biology, chemistry, policy) with a global perspective and in undertaking a review of current knowledge on the behaviour and fate of micro-plastics. Building on this expertise, it would the be able to recommend future directions. A specific workshop was already organized in 2010. The report summarizing the discussion can be found here.

The plastics industry supports this initiative and will provide GESAMP with its expertise as well as partial funding.

Why supporting Working Group 40?
The Plastics industry involvement in this initiative was deemed necessary as:

  • this is a global issue that requires a multi-sector, global response
  • there is a need to synthesise scattered information from a broad range of scientific disciplines;
  • the overall objective is a global assessment;
  • the Working Group will recommend areas requiring further research;
  • the conclusions of the Working Group G will help shape policy development and implementation;
  • it will include a review of physical and chemical impacts of micro-plastics on biota.

Project Proposal

First phase 1. Estimate rates of inputs of micro-plastics (resin pellets, abrasives, personal care products) and plastics (including main polymer types); involves developing methodology, using monitoring data, identifying proxies (e.g. population centres, shipping routes, tourism revenues);
2. Review modelling of surface transport, distribution & areas of accumulation;
3. Review processes (physical, chemical & biological) controlling the rate of fragmentation and degradation, including estimating long-term behaviour and estimate rate of production of ‘secondary’ micro-plastic fragments;
Second Phase 4. Review long-term modelling including fragmentation, seabed and water column distribution, informed by the results of topic 3;
Third Phase 5. Review uptake by biota, physical biological impacts at a population level.

PlasticsEurope supports GESAMP’s initiative
to undertake a review of current knowledge on the behaviour and fate of micro-plastics. It provides GESAMP with its expertise as well as partial funding.


Official Partners:

UNIDO NOAA PlasticsEurope
American Chemistry Council IAEA