Arctic Marine Litter Project

Preventing plastic waste at its source

Photography: Shutterstock

There is an urgent need to halt the constant inflow of plastic waste into the Arctic and the most effective solution is prevention at the source. In the Artic Marine Litter Project, researcher Wouter Jan Strietman and his team of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) are identifying the underlying causes and solutions so as to reduce marine plastic pollution in this region.

WHY THIS RESEARCH?

Every day, ocean currents transport large amounts of plastic waste from both nearby and faraway places into the Arctic, where it accumulates and creates risks for people and the environment.

IMPACT

Reduce marine plastic pollution in the Arctic by tracing the sources and identifying causes and solutions by engaging local stakeholders and fishing industry experts.

Even in the nearly uninhabited Arctic region, the coasts and seas are becoming increasingly polluted with plastic waste. Beaches in this region are covered with all sorts of plastic, ranging from small bottle caps to large fishing nets. Most litter arrives there through ocean currents from North America, Europe and Siberia, but some is also of local origin. It can often be found locked up in the ice, on beaches or on the seabed. In this way, more and more litter accumulates, resulting in an increasing threat to the environment and local communities.

‘We work much like detectives: every item tells a story and analysing these items provides crucial information’

For Strietman and his colleagues, a crucial factor in this project is the level of detail in the analysis. “By analysing plastic waste collected from beaches in the Arctic region in more detail, we are able to gather much more knowledge on the origin, actors involved and the underlying causes than has previously been available. In a way, you could say that we work on this topic much like detectives: every item tells a story and analysing these items in great detail provides crucial information that can be used to work on targeted prevention,” Strietman says.

Duration

4 years

Partners

Leemans Maritime Consultancy

Where

Arctic region

Funds needed

€625,000

Researchers clearing up plastic waste. Photo: Wouter Jan Strietman

“The information on the type and sources of litter provided by current research is more general (e.g. ‘fishing nets’ or ‘fisheries’), and does not always provide the level of detail needed to understand who is involved, where the problems are situated and what actions can be taken to prevent pollution. What we do in our research therefore is dig a little deeper and, in the case of fishing nets, look at the mesh size and other features of the net to determine which types of fisheries are involved and what the origin is. This lets us know which actors to engage with to discuss the underlying causes and potential solutions. For example, is it purely a question of choice or do the fishing ports of the fisheries involved lack the facilities to handle returned waste properly?” Answers to these questions will enable the stakeholders involved to work on action plans to reduce or prevent plastic waste from entering the sea.

Walruses in the Arctic are surrounded by plastic. Photo: Wouter Jan Strietman

“The Arctic Marine Litter Project is a typical situation where WUR offers significant added value. We have all of the scientific disciplines required to entirely determine the amount and type of litter and its environmental effects.

Participative research with stakeholders enables us to determine underlying causes and potential solutions,” Strietman says. “And we join forces with local partners to offer and apply this method and knowledge wherever needed. The first steps we have taken in this project on Svalbard have already produced new and directly applicable results. My ambition is to work further on this with my colleagues and partners throughout the Arctic, and support local stakeholders in Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia in the steps that need to be taken to solve the problem of plastic waste in the Arctic.”

ICY PLASTIC SOUP

The funding being sought is intended to allow the team to upscale the project to the wider Arctic region and increase its impact. “Our research takes place in unexplored territory as we are providing much more information than was previously available. This is also what makes it so interesting for me: it is a methodology and an approach that works. If we can upscale to a much larger area we can make a fundamental contribution to solving the problem of the icy plastic soup in the Arctic.”

WOUTER JAN STRIETMAN

Position

Researcher, Wageningen University & Research

Expertise

Aquaculture and fisheries, General economics, Nature management, Spatial planning, Economy of natural resources, North Sea, Maritime fishing, Aquatic mammals, Cetaceans, Communication, Participation, Participative methods, Framework guidelines for marine strategy, Economic geography, Spatial economy, Sustainable development, Arctic region

Photo: Gea Hogeveen

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