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Mundus maris and its friends and allies teamed up again this year to celebrate World Oceans Day, 8 June, together around the globe under the UN motto focused on protecting the ocean – and ourselves - from hideous plastic pollution. Celebrations entailed a quite diverse programme of activities, starting with the youth contest for Mundus maris Awards. Preparatory and awareness raising activities took place in several countries. Celebrations reached their culmination with special events on three continents: taking off in Brussels, Belgium, and followed by other events in Argentina, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.

The Environmental Festival of Brussels took place again at the Parc Cinquantenaire in Brussels on Sunday 3rd June. Aided by a warm and sunny weather from the first hours in the morning, families, couples, friends - altogether about 22,000 people of all ages wandered around the festival booths exploring their large variety. With an inviting set up that created an informal area for interaction with the visitors, complete with a kid-friendly area, Mundus maris volunteers spent the day engaging in fascinating conversations in over five languages with the international public that stopped by the MM booth.

The theme of this year's Festival was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, in accordance to the recent campaign launched by the UN. The event also took place just few days after the announcement of the EU Commission's proposal of a new Directive to reduce single-use plastic. The proposed regulation specifically targets the 10 single used plastic objects of daily use which are found in abundance on the beaches– such as plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, sticks for balloons, food and drink containers.

This is good news. But the proposal does not say anything about many other forms of plastic. One such type of absentees are cigarette butts, an estimated 3 trillion of which are released into the environment and many end up in the ocean. Few people seem to be aware of the fact that the combination of toxic chemicals of the cigarette butts can kill marine life. During several clean-up drives earlier this year, we found indeed that cigarette butts were outnumbering any other plastic litter picked up.

So, the focus of Mundus maris this year was also on preventing more marine litter in the ocean, underscored by clean up drives in several countries in the run-up to 8. June. In addition to the usual informative material, visitors of the booth could sign up for a pledge for the ocean focused on reducing plastic use and discards. It was heart-warming to learn that the majority of the visitors were already rather well-informed about the plastic waste problem in the ocean.

The entire family is engaged in answering the quizThe conversations at the booth offered excellent opportunities to expand their understanding of the issues and answer many remaining questions.

For some visitors, it was not clear that there are other forms of plastic pollution in addition to packaging, such as microbeads incorporated in cosmetics, suncreams and tooth pastes and microfibers released when washing synthetic fabrics.

A good number of visitors participated to our quiz and answered the five questions on marine plastic pollution that was distributed at the booth. At the end of the day, the happy winner of an attractive cotton bag with the Mundus maris mascots Samba and Kumba was drawn from among the questionnaires with the highest number of correct answers. Most questionnaires had 2 or 3 right answers out of five, suggesting that people are partially informed, but there are still many aspects of the problem which receive less coverage from media, where organisations such as Mundus maris have their work carved out to raise more awareness. Meanwhile find out the answers here, if you have done the quiz for yourselves.

A handy little leaflet in French and English versions was a champion among visitors. It illustrated how one might reduce plastic use through changing daily routines, hour by hour. Examples were proposed of what to consider while doing the laundry, going to the gym or simply selecting between different body creams.

On the back of the info sheet, seven practical tips were combined with a small challenge that invited to spend one day each week completely plastic free. The French version finished fast. Click here, you can try it out yourself.

A small experiments that allowed to visualise in real time the effects of ocean acidification on calcareous marine species attracted a lot of attention. That was often a good starting point for wider conversations on climate change and other factors affecting ocean health, not only plastic.

Lots of people were glad to share with us what they are already doing for the oceans, such as self-production of home detergents and other products. Visitors made ample use of the notice board offered in front of the booth to share experience.

Kids also had a dedicated creative space for them where they passed through in droves and had fun by colouring MM mascots with water colours.

We were particularly happy to welcome the visitors, who felt attracted to Mundus maris activities to the point of wanting to get more involved. Several offered to volunteer and contribute to the association's activities by using their time and skills, such as knowledge of foreign languages. Strengthening the team in this way will be most helpful to cope with growing demand for ocean protection, in particularly sharing knowledge more effectively.

The Brussels-based winner of one of the Mundus maris Awards 2018 in the youth contest – For a Plastic-Free Ocean, Lila Bel Mamoune, could unfortunately not make it to the festival. The ceremony to hand over the prize is therefore postponed to a more convenient date.

After a whole day in the sunshine, when the festival was officially shut down, there were still visitors hovering around the booth. Overall, the public turnout and participation was successful. A big thank you to the dynamic volunteer team and the countless visitors engaging in conversations with the team and the information materials as well as making their personal pledges to the ocean and active support of our work.

Text by Simona Boschetti, photos by C.E. Nauen.