QUITO, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Ecuador on Friday marked World Oceans Day, which falls on June 8, and called for reduction in the use of plastic products.
"The oceans are the lungs of the planet and an essential part of the biosphere. Each year, 8 million tons of plastics end up in our oceans, harming marine life," Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Foreign Affairs minister and former environment minister, said on Twitter.
"Let's help reduce plastic consumption," urged Espinosa, who was recently designated as president of the United Nations 73rd General Assembly, starting in September in New York.
The UN has warned that by 2050, the earth and its oceans will be swamped by nearly 12 billion tons of plastics if action is not taken now to prevent accumulating plastic waste.
As home to the world-renowned Galapagos Islands which is a declared World Heritage site located 972 km from Ecuador's Pacific coastline, Ecuador has long boasted keen environmental awareness.
Although the archipelago is open for tourism, receiving some 200,000 visitors a year, the flow of tourists is restricted to limit environmental impact.
On May 22, Ecuador took further steps to protect the area's wildlife, adopting an initiative of restrictions on the use of plastics on the islands, known for their pristine habitats.
In an interview with Xinhua, Lorena Tapia, president of the governing council of the Galapagos, said the initiative aims to preserve the area's unique marine ecosystems.
"As Ecuadorians, we must be aware and take action in the face of a problem of global concern. We see islands and oceans that show the need to take action regarding our own consumer habits," said Tapia.
World Oceans Day is an "invitation for countries to make concrete decisions to tackle a problem that was prioritized at the last Climate Change Summit, and that must be tackled through government policy," Tapia said.
Even in the Galapagos, which enjoys a protected status, clean-up efforts in 2018 have collected some 22 tons of plastic waste from the coasts of the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana and Santiago, and much of the waste was swept into the sea by the currents, according to the governing council.
"We have seen dead animals that mistook plastic items for food," said Tapia.
The new restriction on plastics is to be gradually implemented, beginning with a ban on plastic straws and eventually including non-recyclable beverage bottles.
Tapia said plastic pollution is at this point harming wildlife, but eventually threatens to impact human health.
"There are plastics that never decompose and end up being microplastics that are ingested by animals and then consumed by humans," said Tapia.
Latin America, with its 16 million square kms of sea, provides 24 percent of the world's fish for food.
In a message to mark World Oceans Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned there are now more microplastics in the oceans than stars in our galaxies.
"Unless we change course, plastic waste could soon outweigh all the fish in the oceans," said Guterres.