Commonwealth joins forces with all-women sailing crew to fight plastic pollution

The Commonwealth Secretariat has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with eXXpedition, a non-profit organisation that runs all-women sailing expeditions to research the causes of, and solutions to, marine plastic pollution.

The collaboration will give Commonwealth countries geographic and ecosystem health information related to marine debris and its wider environmental impact, to help them protect oceans and manage plastic pollution.

Healthy oceans

Combining this research with actions taken by the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) Action Group and other Commonwealth platforms will assist in driving science-based policy solutions for healthy oceans across the Commonwealth.

Founded in 2014, eXXpedition runs expeditions all over the world, conducting scientific research and capacity building activities with communities, governments and partners.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s voyage is taking place virtually. Through online workshops the all-female multidisciplinary crew will share their own experiences, support scientific research and collaborate with community groups – providing a unique platform to engage women and youth.

Emily Penn, Founder, eXXpedition says: “It is fantastic to be working with the Commonwealth Secretariat on our Virtual Voyages which have been created in response to COVID19 – at eXXpedition we have always focused on what we can do, rather than what we can’t! We are excited to work together to accelerate the journey towards a healthy ocean using our SHiFT Platform, which scales up support for individuals and businesses to tackle plastic pollution around the world and which we will use as part of this new partnership.”

Plastic pollution

The partnership will contribute to work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, particularly the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, a Blue Charter Action Group addressing marine plastic pollution which is co-championed by the UK and Vanuatu.

Other Blue Charter Action Groups such as Ocean and Climate Change, Sustainable Coastal Fisheries and Coral Reef Protection and Restoration will also provide access to common data sets, shared practices, co-learning and marine scientific capacity building, in order to support policy development.

Paulo Kautoke, Senior Director, Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources Directorate, Commonwealth Secretariat, says: “We are proud to join this partnership with eXXpedition, which will greatly assist the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups in developing broader capacity building and data collection capabilities across the Commonwealth. It will contribute to empowering girls and women, as well as create opportunities for innovative solutions to marine plastics and practical action for healthy oceans throughout the Commonwealth.”

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans and marine ecosystems. More than 12 million tonnes of plastic waste pollute our sea each year, choking wildlife above and below the waterline. Around one million sea birds and an unknown number of sea turtles die each year from plastic debris. The effects of plastics carrying toxicity through the marine food chain is also still being researched, including the implications for human health.

Opportunity to join eXXpedition Virtual Voyage

Commonwealth Blue Charter is working with eXXpedition, a UK-based company that runs all-female sailing voyages investigating ocean plastic pollution, to offer a bursary place for the next stage of eXXpedition’s Virtual Voyage programme.

For the past five years these missions have been at sea, but given the pandemic the experience is now being offered virtually. This means eXXpedition can continue to support a community of changemakers in taking action against plastic pollution.

From live scientific analysis to collaborative problem solving, the immersive leadership experience is designed to equip and support participants in enacting change in their own country. By bringing the best parts of the journeys at sea to life online, the chosen crew have a unique opportunity to network with talented women from across sectors, deep dive into the cause of and solutions to plastic pollution, and receive one-on-one mentorship from mission leaders to find their unique role in helping solve one of the world’s most pressing issues.

Each Virtual Voyage has a 12-person crew of women from all over the world who will be connecting through an online platform. The full programme involves six interactive sessions and some independent research. The condensed programme will be delivered over the course of a weekend.

Applicants – who must live in or be connected to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu or Australia – are invited to complete an application form here.

Case Study: Litter Intelligence Programme, New Zealand (on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences.

To share your own case study, please contact us

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“We cannot improve what we do not measure’ has become a common phrase in the environmental space. However, robust environmental monitoring programmes are few and far between, and where they do exist, communities are seldom engaged with the monitoring work and data that inform the decisions that shape their communities.

“Litter Intelligence provides these communities, and specifically schools, with a unique opportunity to connect with their local coastline, engage in critical monitoring work, and protect the places they love.”

Camden Howitt, Co-Founder and Coastlines Lead at Sustainable Coastlines


Led by New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines, Litter Intelligence collects data, provides insights and inspires action towards reducing marine litter. Launched in May 2018, Litter Intelligence is a long-term programme that combines citizen-science beach litter monitoring and innovative teacher training and education to build a strong understanding of the problem and solutions for litter in the marine environment.

To collect and input litter data, Sustainable Coastlines engages communities around New Zealand, providing the training, equipment and technology required for people to take part in the programme as “Citizen Scientists”. By working to a United Nations Environment Programme/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission methodology (Cheshire et al., 2009), data are collected with a high standard of scientific rigour, for use for national, regional and international reporting, including the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The programme focuses on solving the litter problem long term, with an innovative education programme that inspires and enables educators and their students to connect with nature and take action on litter in their local community, all the while gaining curriculum credits.

To roll out the education programme, the charity provides professional development training for educators. The approach is innovative and holistic, and is structured around a robust behavioural change framework. It focuses on educator professional development rather than resource design, so educational impacts are long term and scalable.

All data and training resources are freely and openly available through the purpose-built Litter Intelligence platform at

The issue

Plastics reach the marine environment through a variety of land- and sea-based human activities; therefore, marine litter results from human behaviour, whether accidental or intentional. Any measure to address the issue of marine litter must thus also seek to educate and inform communities, to ultimately alter human behaviour. To understand which measures will have the greatest impact in relation to reducing quantities of plastics in the marine environment, it must first be understood which items are most commonly found, and where these items originate (the source). Although marine plastic pollution is a global issue, the quantities and types of plastic, as well as their individual sources, vary greatly depending on where you are in the world. As such, any country or organisation wishing to take action on reducing marine plastics must first understand the specific issues in the area considered (be this a stretch of coastline, a municipality, a small island, a region or even an entire country).

One of the best indicators of types and quantities of marine plastics in any given area is the presence of plastics at the coast, or more specifically on beaches.

Monitoring of litter on the coastline is also one of the most accessible ways to gather data on marine plastics, as no specific scientific apparatus is required, and reliable, consistent data can be collected at a relatively low cost.

The response

Litter Intelligence provides local communities with the means to tackle specific marine litter issues in their local areas, by inspiring and informing better decisions for a world without litter. It does this by connecting people to nature, engaging communities with citizen science, and arming them with influencing tools with innovative and holistic education. The programme incorporates the following two components:

  1. A school education programme (primary and secondary) and teacher professional development that focus on the connection between nature and positive behaviour change, rather than simply education and awareness on marine litter. Through the programme, the school also adopts and monitors a nearby beach. Schools are provided with training to undertake the monitoring, and an inquiry-based programme that builds on the data collected at the local beach (e.g. integrated learning experiences ranging from maths, statistically analysing data, to crafting a response through the arts), working towards encouraging school communities to identify specific issues in their local area and take action to address these.
  2. An ongoing Citizen Science beach litter monitoring programme, in which school-based Citizen Scientists are an integral part of a nationwide programme and network of other monitoring groups. The data collected contribute to an official national litter database, which presents analysis of the data submitted and includes quality assurance and quality control to ensure data quality. The volunteer groups are permitted to submit data only if they have undergone the dedicated Litter Intelligence training. Confidence in the data is such that the New Zealand government uses it to inform policy

The programme is built on standardised beach litter monitoring, which is a localised adaptation of the United Nations Environment Programme/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission methodology (Cheshire et al., 2009).

Partnerships and support

Litter Intelligence is led by New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines, in close collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment, Statistics New Zealand and the Department of Conservation. The project is funded by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund. The initial funding was for NS$2.7 million, and included design and development of the programme, as well as its operation (May 2018– April 2021). Sustainable Coastlines is currently seeking funding(1) to extend Litter Intelligence as a core on-going programme in New Zealand and to expand its reach to countries around the Pacific, and eventually around the world.

The programme was initially launched through a nongovernmental organisation statement at the UN Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017, and was subsequently listed as a voluntary commitment on the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Ocean Action platform.

Litter Intelligence was also introduced to participants at the Pacific Environment Forum in Apia, Samoa, in September 2019. Alongside this, the charity ran training and an initial litter survey with forum attendees and staff from the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The Litter Intelligence Programme has been running since May 2018 and has already has significant impacts on policy, environment, awareness, behaviour change and community action.

The Litter Intelligence database is fully operational and set up to house data from anywhere in the world, although it currently contains only data from New Zealand and a pilot monitoring site in Samoa. The education programme has been established in 13 New Zealand schools, with dozens more schools around the country soon to join.

Litter Intelligence has informed national-level SDG monitoring efforts; the programme was included in New Zealand’s first Voluntary National Review on the SDGs, presented at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019 (for the SDG indicator 14.1.1 on marine plastics). As the data from Litter Intelligence inform the SDG monitoring and reporting efforts, the programme is expected to have a global-level impact on policy (MFAT, 2019: 101).

In October 2019, Litter Intelligence beach litter data were also included in “Our Marine Environment”, an official government report. This was the first time that marine litter data had been included in official reporting, and the first time that Citizen Science data had been accepted at this highest national reporting level (Stats NZ and Ministry for Environment, 2019: 29-31).


Three main challenges identified during implementation in New Zealand and through working with other countries around the Pacific Islands are as follows:

  1. Cultural adaptation. Ensuring all communities (including indigenous communities such as the tangata whenua (māori) communities in New Zealand) are equally reached requires much more than simply language translation and needs to be done with a holistic cultural lens and in direct consultation with the communities it aims to serve.
  2. Funding and resources. While the programme is funded for a three-year design and development phase, long-term funding is always challenging. The charity is investigating a range of sources for long-term programme resourcing.
  3. Standardisation. The majority of challenges with standardisation have been addressed through a robust training programme, making use of technology and strong communication tools. However, citizen science programmes by their nature require on-going training and support to ensure data quality.

Key lessons learnt

Sustainable Coastlines has concluded that education resources and technology alone cannot engage communities and develop capacity. Communities need human contact, training and support to continue to motivate and inspire them to engage with the programme. The vast majority of the environmental education programmes researched tend to focus on lesson plans and resource production, or some combination of these, while the overwhelming majority of behaviour change research suggests that these approaches have limited effect. This programme focuses on a holistic and innovative approach that does more to support (often) under-resourced schools with the hands-on environmental engagement needed to create long-term change.

Lead contact

Camden Howitt, Sustainable Coastlines: [email protected]


Cheshire, A.C., Adler, E., Barbière, J., Cohen, Y. et al. (2009) “UNEP/IOC Guidelines on Survey and Monitoring of Marine Litter”. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 186; IOC Technical Series No. 83.

MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) (2019) “He Waka Eke Noa: Towards a Better Future, Together. New Zealand’s Progress towards the SDGS 2019”. Voluntary National Review. New-Zealand-Voluntary-National-Review-2019-Final. pdf

Stats NZ and Ministry for the Environment (2019) “Our Marine Environment 2019”. publications/environmental-reporting/our-marineenvironment-2019


  1. The estimated costs to support and maintain the national Citizen Science and Education programme in New Zealand, as well as support the technology behind it, are estimated at between NS$250,000 and $300,000 per year. To expand the programme to additional countries (e.g. Pacific Island countries) it is estimated that between $100,000 and $150,000 will be required per country, plus around $15,000 per year for support and maintenance.



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Post-COVID recovery should lock in ocean sustainability, says Commonwealth Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is urging governments to ensure their countries’ post-COVID economic recoveries are environmentally sustainable and safe for the ocean.

Forty-seven of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries have a coastline while 25 are either small island developing states or ‘big ocean states’ relying heavily on the ocean for food and income.

Sustainable blue and green economies

On World Oceans Day (8 June), Secretary-General Patricia Scotland calls on countries to reform development strategies in a way that supports vibrant and sustainable blue and green economies.

She said: “The ocean is the life blood of so many Commonwealth countries and our environment should be the cornerstone as we put plans in place to recover our economies. The Commonwealth covers more than a third of coastal oceans in the world, contributing to a global ocean-based economy valued at US$3 to 6 trillion per year.

“COVID-19 impact has radically altered some of our key economic sectors and transformed the way we live, communicate and do business. While the fallout from the pandemic has had a huge impact on our blue economies, it also presents a crucial opportunity to strategise on how to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable economic practices built on climate resilience and ocean sustainability.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter is one of the most effective platforms for global ocean action in the international landscape today. I commend the work of our member countries through the action groups and welcome the support we have received from national, regional and global partners, enabling us to mobilise together for ocean health.”

Blue Charter action groups

The Blue Charter is the Commonwealth’s commitment to work together to protect the ocean and meet global ocean commitments. Ten action groups, led by 13 champion countries, are driving the flagship initiative. More than 40 countries have signed up to one or more of these action groups, and counting.

Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups include:

  • Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus)
  • Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya)
  • Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius)
  • Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods (Sri Lanka)
  • Ocean Acidification (New Zealand)
  • Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji)
  • Ocean Observations (Canada)
  • Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (marine plastic pollution – United Kingdom, Vanuatu)
  • Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles)
  • Sustainable Coastal Fisheries (Kiribati)

Members of the private sector, academia and civil society – including Vulcan Inc, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Nekton Foundation and many others – are also engaged as Blue Charter partners.

Commonwealth Blue Charter – All Champions Meeting

Countries driving the Commonwealth Blue Charter project will meet in Cyprus from 21 to 24 March 2020. They will reflect on what they’ve achieved over the past year, and agree on a strategy for the coming year.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a landmark agreement by leaders to cooperate on ocean action. Since launching in 2018, 10 action groups led by 13 ‘champion’ countries have rallied Commonwealth members around pressing ocean issues like marine pollution, coral reef restoration and climate change.

Champion countries will share experiences, best practices and new ideas.

For more information, please contact Heidi Prislan, Commonwealth Blue Charter Adviser: [email protected] or [email protected]

Commonwealth countries taking lead on ocean-based climate action

A 14-strong international panel working to accelerate action for ocean protection features seven Commonwealth member countries.

Australia, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Ghana, Jamaica and Kenya all helped produce a report unveiled at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit which found that ocean-based climate action can play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint than was previously thought.

In fact it could deliver up to a fifth of the annual greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than annual emissions from all current coal fired power plants world-wide.

The report, launched in New York, is entitled ‘Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action’ and was produced by an expert international high-level panel made up of 14 heads of state and government.

The study is the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into the role ocean-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.

The report suggests the following solutions would help curb climate change, contribute to the development of a sustainable ocean economy, protect coastal communities from storms, provide jobs and improve food security:

  • Scaling up ocean-based renewable energy – which could save up to 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050, equivalent to taking over a billion cars off the road each year.
  • Decarbonising domestic and international shipping and transport – which could cut up to 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050.
  • Increasing the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – could prevent approximately 1 gigatonne of CO2e from entering the atmosphere by 2050.
  • Utilising low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean, such as seafood and seaweeds, to help feed future populations in a healthy and sustainable way

Australia is investing AUD$70 million in the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a 10-year $329 million collaboration between 45 Australian and international partners to develop innovative and sustainable offshore industries to increase Australian seafood and marine renewable energy production.

Fiji is committing to making its shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050 while Kenya will incorporate blue carbon ecosystems into its nationally determined contribution, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

Namibia is committing an additional US$5 million towards ocean research and protection over 2019/2020.

The report comes on the back of significant progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Agreed unanimously by leaders in April 2018, the Blue Charter commits all 53 member countries to work together on solving crucial ocean-related challenges.

To date, 12 ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally fellow members around nine key areas, including marine pollution, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

‘Fiji is leading on the Blue Charter Action Group on ‘oceans and climate change’, Kenya on the ‘sustainable blue economy’, Australia is co-leading on ‘coral reef protection and restoration’ and Canada on ‘ocean observation’.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources, Nick Hardman-Mountford, said: “This report unequivocally shows that ocean based climate action is integral to reducing the global carbon footprint.

“Commonwealth countries have already come forward with game changing commitments. The Commonwealth Blue Charter that all Commonwealth countries adopted last year provides an action-orientated collaborative mechanism for countries to address ocean issues. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth countries to share experiences, take real action and lead the way forward.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said: “Fiji is leading Pacific Island States in a united and visionary response to the ocean’s untapped potential to combat global warming.

“We are collectively committed to cutting 40 per cent of emissions from Pacific shipping by 2030, and we’re making our shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050. Together, we’re moving towards managing our waters sustainably.”

‘This report was swiftly followed by a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that humanity is in a race against the pace of climate change and our ability to respond to it and calls for urgent, ambitious and collaborative action.

Ministers commit to join forces in climate change fight

Environment ministers from across the Commonwealth have jointly committed to work together to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change, build resilience and collaborate on ocean action.

During a roundtable side event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, ministers with responsibility for the environment, oceans and climate change representing 26 countries across the Commonwealth agreed to a statement which commits them to work together “to tackle and reduce the devastating impacts of climate change on our countries’ peoples, economies, land and ocean environments”.

The written statement went on to add: “We will share our experiences and ideas to formulate multilateral actions across the Commonwealth”.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland opened the meeting entitled ‘Advancing ambition and accelerating action – Dialogue on climate change, resilience building and ocean action’.

She told ministers: “No country in our Commonwealth family is unaffected by the impacts of climate change.

“Now is the moment for us to bring our collective voice to bear on these defining issues of our time.”

The event was designed to boost the Commonwealth’s efforts towards reducing emissions, accelerating the rate of resilience-building and adaptation and using natural and marine resources in a sustainable manner (otherwise referred to as green and blue growth).

Ministers also:

  • Reaffirmed the need to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, as documented in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report
  • Highlighted the commitments of Commonwealth countries to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020
  • Acknowledged the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and emphasised the role of the ocean in addressing climate change
  • Discussed the success of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s programmes on climate finance, cooperation on ocean action (Blue Charter), resilience building (including disaster risk finance portal, debt management, sustainable economic development) and sustainable energy transition and regenerative development.

The Secretary-General drew attention to the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, a service designed to help member countries untangle red tape around climate financing and make successful applications to international funds designed to tackle climate change effects.

She said: “The financing gaps for climate action, both for mitigation and adaptation measures remains significant. This hub is a hugely valuable addition to the pool of Commonwealth resources and practical assistance.”

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who delivered the keynote address added: “One of the problems of being a small state is lack of capacity – that’s why the Commonwealth and its many toolkits and the Climate Finance Access Hub are so important. But now the question is, how do we scale it up?”

In fact the hub has helped member countries access a total of USD 27million of funding – more than 35 times the original start-up investment of AUD 1 million from Australia.

Furthermore, nearly half a billion USD has been applied for and is in the pipeline for climate action projects across the Commonwealth.

Ministers also discussed the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a commitment to promote good ocean governance and protect the ocean, back by action groups to tackle threats such as pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change through shared, innovative approaches. They highlighted the inextricable link between climate change and ocean action.

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to be Commonwealth Blue Charter Champions on nine topics identified as priorities. Topics include coral reef protection and restoration, ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution and marine protected areas.

Ministers agreed to meet again at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December, which is being badged as the ‘blue COP’. They will develop proposals for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020 in order to strengthen financing mechanisms and help Commonwealth countries fulfil their climate mitigation, adaptation and ocean action commitments.