Press Announcement:

Would you eat fish from your toilet? Probably not – but maritime vessels might soon make it so.

Last 15 October the M/T Glenn Guardian, a tanker contracted to service moored US Navy ships, allegedly dumped 189,500 liters of domestic waste and 760 liters of bilge water (residual water, oil plus grease) 37 kilometers from the coast of Subic Bay. This is not unique – it simply underscores the larger problem of oceanic waste dumping.

“For over two centuries, military and commercial vessels have been throwing all sorts of waste overboard,” explains World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) Conservation Programmes Vice-president Joel Palma.

“Large vessels such as cruise ships can generate daily over 110,000 liters of raw sewage and 750,000 liters of gray water (less pollutive water from showers, kitchens and household operations). This excludes solid waste like plastic bags and bottles. All this can come from a single vessel. Cargo ships alone exceed 50,000 globally. Imagine just how much waste enters our oceans daily and you’ll realize how our seas are slowly turning into toilets.”
Republic Act 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990 expressly prohibits the disposal of toxics, while Section 27 of the Philippine Clean Water Act prohibits the dumping of sewage and organic wastes into Philippine waters.

“Even if the M/V Glenn Guardian wasn’t dumping toxic substances, domestic waste such as feces and organic pollutants can cause substantial eutrophication – algal blooms which obscure sunlight to limit oceanic productivity,” adds Palma.

All organic wastes eventually break down into phosphates and nitrates, which fuel the growth of free-floating algae. Algal blooms limit the sunlight available to bottom-dwelling creatures and eventually reduce the dissolved oxygen of water – causing fish kills.

In 2002, an algal bloom practically wiped out Bolinao’s Bangus (milkfish) industry, causing PHP400 million in lost revenues.

Leading environmental solutions-provider WWF-Philippines calls for tighter measures against oceanic waste dumping. Discharging untreated wastewater into a water body currently incurs penalties ranging from PHP10,000 to PHP3 million  for each day of violation.

“It is time for all ships to be held legally-accountable for the wastes they discharge at sea,” says WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “Oceans make up 71% of the planet.  More than 95% of our oceans remain unprotected and poorly regulated.  It is time to change that.”

The installation of modern onboard waste treatment systems plus closer monitoring of discharge practices should be mandatory for all local and visiting vessels – as would be more severe violation penalties.

Concludes Tan, “Unchecked vessel discharges – whether toxic or organic – degrades not just water quality, but oceanic productivity. Given the need to feed our ballooning population, this is a far larger issue than the VFA. Beyond health and biodiversity, the impacts of this will be largely economic. No one wants to eat from a toilet. Would you?”