Sounding a Royal Alarm for the Ocean

03/25/2015 11:06 am ET | Updated May 25, 2015

Last Wednesday, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, speaking in Washington, DC, to an audience of 100 governmental, corporate and nonprofit leaders, sounded the alarm about the ever-increasing quantities of plastic waste entering the ocean. He cited a recent study in the journal Science which stated that, without intervention, between five to 12 million metric tonnes of plastics will continue to enter the ocean every year. Think of that number like this: The global tuna catch is 4.5 million metric tons per year. We are taking out tuna and replacing it with plastic.

The Prince, an impassioned environmentalist, called for governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations to work together to reduce the flow of plastics into the sea. As the head of an organization committed to doing just what the Prince described, I was heartened by his words and deeply appreciate the urgency and global reach of his message.

Plastic is found in practically every species of fish examined and causes the deaths of countless seabirds and marine animals

But the situation is also solvable if we take Prince Charles' mandate to heart. We are already seeing the kind of collaboration and action that he describes through our Trash Free Seas Alliance®, a forum Ocean Conservancy leads where industry, scientists and nonprofits join forces for solutions. The Alliance is working with producers of plastics and consumer goods that are stepping up to share responsibility -- and take action -- for this global crisis.

We know from the research cited in Science that as much as 83 percent of this waste comes from 20 countries -- the majority of them developing nations where implementation of more effective waste management could produce a significant decrease in the amount of plastic entering the ocean. And the flood of plastics is not "just" an ocean issue; it has major implications on public health, job creation, tourism and developing economies and markets.

While there are a number of responses that can work over the long term, the Alliance is committed to developing a collective industry response to "turbocharge" the increase of collection and treatment in the short term, especially for the five countries cited as contributing as much as half of the plastic waste. Through a collaborative effort of corporations working with governments and agencies within these nations, lives and economies can be made better, and plastic waste entering the ocean can be drastically reduced. This type of approach is supported by the Global Ocean Commission, a group of world leaders working with industry, scientists, conservation groups and others, to identify solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our ocean.

Scientists tell us that "global peak waste" will not come before the year 2100. That makes it even more urgent to develop the right tools and the winning solutions to "get this right" for the ocean, for its inhabitants and for people the world over.

For 30 years, through our International Coastal Cleanup, we have focused on trash removal from beaches and waterways around the globe. During that time, 11 million volunteers in over 150 countries have removed more than 190 million pounds of debris. Now we at Ocean Conservancy have expanded our focus and redoubled our efforts. With our partners in the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, we are committed to preventing plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place.