Marine litter is one of the most pervasive pollution problems affecting the marine environment.  In 2017, PAME launched a Desktop Study on Marine Litter and Microplastics in the Arctic. The Arctic Marine Litter Workshop that took place 5-6 June 2018 had the aim to facilitate inputs to the development of the desktop study, taking into account new developments and information as relevant. The main topics covered were legislative frameworks and literature on sources, impact, distribution as well as response activities. Below is a brief summary of each section and bullet points capturing main considerations.

Two presentations were delivered on legislation frameworks, by Demian Shane (NOAA) and Heidi Savelli-Soderberg (UNEP). Main comments were that there is a lack of  international legally binding instrument that deals with marine litter and microplastics, even if some measures are weakly distributed amongst various global instruments dealing with marine protection. Member countries also need more consistent laws on national level. In the discussions that followed absence of Russia was addressed and the need to bring them to the table. The magnitude of the problem means urgent measures that go beyond the legislation. Collaboration with industry is important. The Arctic countries must not be a part of the problem.

Main topics:

  • Lack of international legally binding instrument
  • Need to strengthen the national legislation of many Arctic countries

Section III: Literature:
Joan Fabres (GRID-Arendal) introduced literature review on desktop study on sources, pathways drivers, impact, response and monitoring. Knowledge gaps are found in all these areas and lack of systematic collection of data. There is no formal Arctic monitoring programme for marin plastic pollution.

Geir W Gabrielsen (the Norwegean Polar Institute) showed results of monitoring programmes that underline the rapidly growing problem of plastic litter. Plastic can be found everywhere. More research is needed on the effects of plastic pollution on animals and therefore humans as well. Sarah Da Silva (Environment and Climate Change Canada) gave an overview on Canadian literature on plastic pollution, accumulation, sources and pathways and research underway, underlining the need for standardizing monitoring methods. Canadian actions and engagements include moving towards zero plastic waste with different solutions along the plastic lifecycle. The two latter lecturers talked about the Arctic sea-ice as a sink for micoplastic.

In discussions nanoplastic effects on humans were discussed and the difficulty to analyse it. The participants agreed on the urgent need for standardized monitoring.  

Main considerations:

  • Fishing gear seems to be the major source of marine litter.
  • Arctic sea-ice is a sink for microplastic.
  • Microplastic impact on humans – still a taboo. Research needed.
  • Standardization of monitoring important.

Section III (a): Sources- origin of plastics both within and outside the Arctic.      
Wouter Jan Strietman (Arctic Marine Litter Project) explained how coastal clean-ups and classification of the litter make it possible to understand the origin of the litter and then taking a preventive action to reduce the input reaction on the source by involving stakeholders. Important to use well defined methods to classify the litter (OSPAR classification?) reacting on the source. Jessica Veldstra (Aleut International Association) gave a look at the problem from Arctic communities perspective. Beach cleaning show that fare most of the beach litter > 80% is from fisheries. Huge impact on the wildlife in costal Alaska.

Discussions: There is a problem in recycling fishing nets. Economic incentives are lacking. Nets have to be clean, they are also not expensive. More expensive nylon 6 nets can be recycled but not economically feasible. Infrastructure for waste management must be good at harbours. for the fishing industry. Legislation is sometime hindering good waste management (Svalbard)

 Main considerations:

  • Fishing gear a major source of marine litter
  • Important to take preventive action involving stakeholders.
  • How to create economic incentives for recycling

Section III(b): Impacts of marine litter
Maria Granberg (IVL-Swedish Environmental Research Institute) introduced PlastArc project. Results show that AMPs are found everywhere in marine ecosystem in Svalbard. Sea ice release AMPs      during spring melting which coincides with the ice edge bloom. High polymer richness in bivalves close to the sewage outlet and to the sea ice.

Other important aspects underlined were How to design a monitoring program that reflects MP change and connect it to ecosystem health? Focus on the sources such as sewage treatment and the use of antifouling paints in the Arctic.        

Peter Murphy (NOAA Marine Debris Program), talked about marine litter impact in Alaska on habitat, entanglement and ingestion. Limited data in all these areas.  Recommendations include prioritize knowledge gaps, integrate regional impact concerns, confirm Arctic region definition in order to integrate more data and alignment of methods/measurements.

Nicole L. Kanayurak (Inuit Circumpolar Council) talked about Inuit approach to addressing marine debris. Impact on food safety, health and wellness was explained. Inuit actions such as clean-up activities and restricted use of plastic bags are ongoing.

Main considerations:

  • Sea ice release AMPs during spring melting
  • Sewage is an important source of AMPs at Svalbard
  • Limited data on impact of marine litter in Alaska
  • Important to prioritize in action plan making
  • Important Inuit initiative to improve the situation

Section III(c): Pathways and distribution
Melanie Bergman (Alfred Wegener Istitute): Microplastic and marine litter in the Arctic region.

Ólína Jörundsdóttir (Matís-Iceland) introduced NORA project; Micro Litter in Sewage plants – Microplastics. that results. Sewage treatment plants in Sweden, Finland and Iceland were examined. Results showed that 1 step treatment in Iceland didn’t retain any plastic while sewage plants in Finland and Sweden retained about 99% of the microplastics. Further discussions: Impact of MP on fisheries and aquaculture in the form of economic and cultural loss and food safety and growing population.

Discussions: Iceland is way back in sewage treatment issues. It is a political question. It is important to involve the politics. Why is a relatively small community releasing such a huge quantity of microplastic particles? Is that justifiable. Microplastic. More research is needed to understand the impact of sewage systems in the Arctic. This is important not only for microplastics but also for different pollutants. Recommendations: map the sewage plants in the Arctic, type, size etc.  Also to report that we must face the risk for humans. Biota contains microplastics, fish contains microplastics. How is possible to communicate the risk to the public and to the politics?

Main considerations:

  • Important to treat sewage in a proper manner to reduce microplastic at its most important source
  • How to involve the politics to go beyond the legislation and do better?
  • How to communicate the threat to the public and politics?

Section III(d): Response activities
Heidi Savelli Soderberg (UNEP, GPA), showed NOAA/EPA prevention interventions in 5 steps toward zero goal. Many projects ongoing all over the world. UNEP/GPA are offering massive open online sources.  Around 50 countries are participating in the Clean Seas project. The aim of the project is to improve plastic management, global phase out of added microplastics, global ban on certain types of single use plastic bags and move towards all plastics recyclable.     

Charlotte Mogensen (OSPAR) talked about OSPAR Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter and its kay action areas. Recommendations: Regional approach to measure amplifies national actions by coordinating efforts. Jointly addresses international obligations (UN,IMO,EU). Due to transport of marine litter coordinated monitoring essentil to assess effectiveness of measures.

Bard Aarbakke (Clean Nordic Oceans) Clean Nordic Oceans is a project for the Nordic countries. The objective is to build a platform to exchange knowledge and experience about methods and measures to reduce the effect of ghost fishing, littering of the oceans and to increase recycling in fishing industry and recreational fishing. As an example of knowledge transfer is the reporting of lost and found fishing gear using app in order to facilitate their retrieval and escape solutions from lost lobster pots.

Sarah Auffret (AECO, Association of Arctic Expedition Cruse Operators). AECO objective is to ensure sustainable tourism. All members (69) have the obligation to follow AECO guidelines, many others do also follow them voluntarily. Following UNEP invitation AECO started the AECO‘s Clean Sea Project in 2017.The three main areas of the project are reducing single-use plastic, enhance clean-ups participation and to produce educational material. In 2018 already there are positive results in all the three areas.

Main considerations:

  • Marine litter regional approach to measure amplifies national actions by coordinating efforts. Jointly addresses international obligations (UN,IMO,EU).
  • Due to transport of marine litter coordinated monitoring essential to assess effectiveness of measures.
  • Incentives for handing in torn fishing nets needed
  • Use of app to locate lost fishing gear for retrieving them
  • Increase awareness of fishermen with education
  • Escape solutions from lost lobster pots.
  • Encourage sustainable tourism
  • Involve tourists/citizens in clean-up activities
  • Education increases awareness that is important for the future.
  • Move towards all plastic recyclable

Lu Zhibo (Tongji University, China) was the last speaker, not listed in the official agenda. In recent years, China has begun to monitor marine microplastics in offshore, ocean and the polar regions. In the polar regions, both China’s eighth Arctic. Expedition in 2017 and the 34th Antarctic Expedition in 2017/18 season carried out investigations on floating litter and marine microplastics. In September 2017, the Research Center of Marine Litter and Microplastics was founded at the National Marine Environmental Monitoring Center. China is willing to have more international cooperation focusing on the marine litter and microplastic related scientific research both in Arctic and Antarctica regions.


This meeting report was contributed by IASC representative Ásta Margrét Ásmundsdóttir. If you are interested in representing IASC at an upcoming Arctic meeting, please contact the IASC Secretariat.

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