The current problem

Our seas and oceans are becoming scandalously polluted with all kinds of garbage discarded by mankind, especially plastic waste. This affects water quality, the environment and, above all, the health of the animals and plants that inhabit such environments.

Unfortunately, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the high levels of pollution now affecting our seas and oceans. In many cases, this is caused by the indiscriminate dumping of plastic materials.

These are all highly dangerous to marine fauna (fish, birds and other animals), as the fact that many die from ingesting or becoming tangled in such litter is well known (photo no. 1). The pollution of beaches and coastal areas is also detrimental to the rest of nature, and to our enjoyment of it.

Between 40 and 60% of the garbage that is collected on beaches is plastic waste (Green Plastics, E.S. Stevens. Princeton University Press, 2002), which in many cases is carried far from where it is dumped by tides and currents, before being washed up on beaches. Of course, normal golf balls, whether practise balls or real golf balls, are found among these prohibited products. The photo below shows the garbage collected during a two hour cleaning session on Oahu beach, Hawaii (USA). In total, 400 golf balls were collected. Photo: Greenpeace, 2007)

As explained under “Annex V of the MARPOL Treaty”, it is currently forbidden to dump any kind of plastic product in the sea due to the highly polluting nature of this material. This ban is regulated by the terms of Annex V of the MARPOL Treaty, drawn up and approved by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation).

Golf balls are currently manufactured using plastic materials that are non-biodegradable, which means that if they end up in the sea, they are highly polluting. They can cause the death of fish and other marine animals, if ingested. What is more, because golf balls do not biodegrade, they will inevitably accumulate on the sea bed. As a result of this, hitting golf balls into the sea, rivers, reservoirs and lakes (except those on golf courses, where they can be retrieved), is prohibited.

For the above reasons, depending on the location, practising golf in its true form can be highly restricted, for example on boats, beaches, and in other such places. This means that in such situations, golf can only be practised in other ways. This could make it impossible for a player to practise their full swing, it may restrict them to practising inside, in front of a simulator screen, or they may not be able to see the trajectory of the ball they have just hit, because the ball drops to the floor after hitting a net located about 5 metres in front of the player.

With ECOBIOBALL it is possible to enjoy a 100% real golfing experience close to marine environments, in the same way as on a typical driving range. Players can practise their full swing and, best of all, can see and analyse the true full trajectory of the ball until it drops into the sea, i.e. they can see the height, distance, ark and direction of travel of their shot.

Annex V of the MARPOL Treaty

The regulations in force to prevent pollution caused by boats are set out in Annex V of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) MARPOL Treaty.

Taken at a global level, the naval sector is possibly the most international of industries. It is present on 90% of the earth’s surface and transports huge quantities of products and goods in an efficient, clean and safe manner. The owners and managers of each boat may have a presence in several countries, with boats spending their working lives moving between different jurisdictions, almost always far from their country of registration.

For this reason, international standards that can be adopted and accepted by all countries are necessary to help regulate ship movement around the world. The earliest maritime treaties date back to the 19th Century. Then, the Titanic disaster of 1912 propelled the SOLAS international agreement on maritime safety, which remains to this day the most important treaty relating to maritime safety.

The agreement that established the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was adopted in Geneva in 1948, and the first meeting convened in 1959. The purpose of the IMO has been to develop and maintain a series of regulations governing maritime transport and navigation. Today, these regulations cover the basic points of safety, environmental concerns, legal issues, technical cooperation, maritime security and the efficiency of navigation. The IMO is now a UN agency, with 169 member states and 3 associate members.

MARPOL is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes It is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively and updated by amendments through the years.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was adopted on 2 November 1973 at IMO and covered pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage.

Adopted in 1978, the new MARPOL Protocol includes new regulations aimed at preventing and minimising pollution from ships and includes six technical annexes. Annex V stands out, with its regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships. Garbage from ships can be just as deadly to marine life as products derived from oil.

The greatest danger comes from plastic, which can float for years. Fish and marine mammals can in some cases mistake plastics for food and they can also become trapped in plastic ropes, nets, bags and other items – even such innocuous items as the plastic rings used to hold cans of beer and drinks together. Once tangled up, they are almost certain to die. The above photo of a Royal Tern caught up in a plastic bag shows a classic example of this sad situation.

It is clear that a good deal of the garbage washed up on beaches comes from people on shore – holiday-makers who leave their rubbish on the beach, fishermen who simply throw unwanted refuse over the side – or from towns and cities that dump rubbish into rivers or the sea. But in some areas most of the rubbish found comes from passing ships which find it convenient to throw rubbish overboard rather than dispose of it in ports.

For a long while, many people believed that the oceans could absorb anything that was thrown into them, but this attitude has changed along with greater awareness of the environment. Although many products do break down when they are in the sea, this process can take months or years, and while such products remain intact, they can kill many animals. The table below provides some examples:


Time taken for the following objects to break down in the sea
Paper bus ticket 2-4 weeks
Cotton cloth 1-5 months
Rope 3-14 months
Woollen cloth 1 año
Painted wood 13 year
Tin can 100 years
Aluminium can 200-500 years
Plastic bottle 450 years

Source: Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association (HELMEPA)

The 1973 MARPOL Convention sought to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being dumped into the sea from ships. Under Annex V of the Convention, garbage includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational waste, excluding fresh fish, generated during the normal operation of the vessel and liable to be disposed of continuously or periodically.

Annex V totally prohibits the disposal of plastics anywhere into the sea, and severely restricts discharges of other garbage from ships into coastal waters and “Special Areas”.

The Annex also obliges Governments to ensure the provision of facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage.

The “special areas” established under the Annex are:

  • the Mediterranean Sea
  • the Baltic Sea Area
  • The Black Sea Area
  • The Red Sea Area
  • The Gulfs Area
  • The North Sea
  • the Wider Caribbean Region and the Antarctic Area

These are areas which have particular problems because of heavy maritime traffic or low water exchange caused by the land-locked nature of the sea concerned.

Implementation, and enforcement, of Annex V was also the focus of a further new Regulation 9, adopted in 1995, which requires all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform engaged in exploration and exploitation of the seabed, to provide a Garbage Record Book, to record all disposal and incineration operations.

The Regulation also requires every ship of 12 metres or more in length to display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the regulation; the placards should be in the official language of the ship’s flag State and also in English or French for ships travelling to other States’ ports or offshore terminals.

Despite the entry into force of Annex V in 1988, even recent surveys carried out in the United States each year have produced up to 10 tons of garbage per mile of coastline, a record that can probably be matched in may other parts of the world. Plastic forms the biggest single item found, as may be seen in the above photo of Kamila beach in Hawaii (USA).

Persuading people that the seas and oceans should not be used as a rubbish bin is a question of education. The old idea that the sea can simply look after itself and soak up any kind of garbage still prevails in many places and cultures, which is why an even greater effort needs to be made to implement the terms of Annex V.