A new report, written for the UK government, warns that plastic pollution may triple within a decade without serious action to mitigate the problem. The Foresight Future of the Sea Report was assembled by experts to make ministers aware of long-term issues facing the health of the world’s oceans. According to the report, plastic buildup is one of a range of threats, including rising ocean temperatures and other pollution. Ministers from four different departments signed off on the current report, which recommends a collaborative approach by different government entities. The report was described last week in a BBC News report.

It adds that a high-profile “mission to planet ocean,” along the lines of a moon or Mars mission, is needed to raise public awareness.

Professor Edward Hill, of the UK National Oceanography Center, who is one of the authors of the new report, said to the BBC:

“The ocean is critical to our economic future. Nine billion people will be looking to the ocean for more food. Yet we know so little of what’s down there. We invest a lot of money and enthusiasm for missions to space – but there’s nothing living out there. The sea bed is teeming with life. We really need a mission to planet ocean – it’s the last frontier.”

Another author, Ian Boyd, the UK government environment department’s chief scientist, said:

“The ocean is out of sight, out of mind,” adding that “There’s a continuous process of exploring for new things to exploit in the oceans, and that’s happening faster than we scientists can keep up with. My suspicion is legislation is also struggling to keep up – and obviously there are risks in that.”

He said industrial interests were reaching unexplored areas faster than scientists are able to, with offshore wind farms and oil and mining operations arriving before regulations can be put in place. Boyd added:

“Scientists need to get in there faster than the commercial people or at least at the same time – to put proper regulation in place to govern those industries.”

Beyond plastic pollution, the authors of the report identify threats from pesticide and fertilizer run-off from farms, industrial toxins, and pharmaceuticals. The report stresses that the ocean can also provide massive economic benefits, an “ocean economy” that could reach a value of $3 trillion by 2030. If policymakers can safeguard the ocean’s biodiversity from such threats, it will offer a vast array of natural resources, including, potentially, a cure for cancer, according to the report.

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