Environment minister Thérèse Coffey has set out how the UK is taking action to tackle marine litter and protect oceans from the effects of climate change at the ‘Our Ocean’ conference in Malta.

The UK’s ban on microbeads is one of the toughest in the world and nine billion fewer plastic bags have been distributed since the government introduced a 5p charge. This week the government also issued a call for evidence on the benefits of reward and return schemes for plastic bottles in a bid to clean up our oceans.

Ms Coffey pledged her support to help small island developing states with marine science, research and conservation projects and set out how the government is continuing the fight at home against the eight million tonnes of plastic that make their way into oceans each year.

She said: "Around the world our oceans are suffering from the blight of plastic pollution and the impacts of climate change. The UK continues to be a global leader in protecting oceans and marine life – our 5p plastic bag charge has taken nine billion bags out of circulation, our microbeads ban is one of the toughest in the world and we are now exploring what more we can do to reduce the impact of plastic bottles."

Alongside further funding under the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme which helps small island states make the most of their maritime asserts and encourages sustainable economic growth, the environment minister also announced support for global initiatives to tackle plastic pollution.

These include joining the Global Partnership on Marine Litter – one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – as well as signing up to the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, an alliance of the fishing industry, NGOs and government agencies working to solve the problem of lost and abandoned ‘ghost’ fishing gear that can trap sea life.

£5.2 million has also been granted to marine projects through the two most recent rounds of the Darwin Initiative and Darwin Plus grant schemes helping to protect coral reefs, set up Marine Protected Areas, encourage sustainable fisheries and increase the resilience of coastal communities to climate change.

While in Malta, Ms Coffey also reiterated the government’s commitment to creating a network of marine protected areas around the United Kingdom, alongside reaffirming £4.8 million to drive forward the creation of a ‘blue belt’ across the UK’s Overseas Territories.