Researchers find Growing Piles of Trash and Plastic on the Arctic Seabed

By Dr. Magdalena A K Muir, Advisory Board Member, Climate and Global Change; and Researcher, Arctic Institute of North America (Canada/US) and Arctic Research Centre (AU, Denmark)


A study tracking an area west of Svalbard found more litter than ever in the Arctic—in some cases at densities rivaling developed areas far to the south—and that the increased trash density was correlated to more ship traffic.

The Arctic’s growing tourism and shipping industry might not just bring more cash: it could bring more trash.

That’s according to a team of German scientists who report in the online scientific journal, Deep Sea Research Part 1: Oceanographic Research Papers, that more garbage sits on the Arctic seabed than ever before, and it’s linked to areas that have seen a boom in vessel traffic as Arctic ice recedes.

The report’s conclusions are drawn from photographs they collected between 2002 and 2014 that show trash resting on the ocean floor west of the High Arctic island of Svalbard.


Scientists Mine K. Tekman, Thomas Krumpen and Melanie Bergman say the high levels of trash density are “surprising,” considering “the remote location [of the field stations].”

So how much more waste? One of two research locations between Greenland and Svalbard reached a “mean annual litter density,” or ALD, of 6,566 items per square kilometre in 2014, or slightly less than the 6,620 per sq. km. average for an area of the seabed near Lisbon—capital of Portugal—with a population well over half a million.

Those figures are a projected average, using an algorithm agreed upon by the academic community—actually there are only 89 pieces of trash catalogued in 7,058 photos taken across about 28,161 square metres. But when compared with ship activity in the region, the data showed “significant positive correlations” between trash density and ship counts, according to the report.

“The increase in tourism and fishing vessel sightings west off Svalbard showed the strongest increase among maritime traffic information,” the report notes, adding that rough counts by coast guard vessels of ships in the area more than doubled between 2002 and 2014, from 47 sightings to 102.

Shifting norms for Arctic sea ice, which continues to set new record lows during the winter, allow more ships to travel further north in open water and areas of thin ice.

Thin ice can then deposit trash across the High Arctic when it melts in the summer, the report speculated.

“The receding sea ice coverage associated with global change has opened hitherto largely inaccessible environments to humans and the impacts of tourism, industrial activities including shipping and fisheries, all of which are potential sources of marine litter,” the report says.

Some of the items documented in the study include rope, fabric, glass, cardboard, pottery, timber and plastic.

And the trash isn’t just for decoration: 50 of the 89 catalogued trash items were interacting with organisms on the seafloor, such as sponges, stalked sea lilies, anemone and shrimp.

If that’s the case, then more seafloor trash is a trend Nunavut may have to look forward to in the coming years as the Arctic’s yearly sea ice extents continue to shrink and more ships routinely navigate through the Northwest Passage.

As Nunavut continues to develop regulations for its growing tourism industry, more ships—such as the record setting 1,000-passenger Crystal Serenity cruise ship—have navigated through the passage each year.

And most of those ships will be passing through Lancaster Sound, between Baffin Island and Devon Island, at some point in their journeys, potentially impacting a major marine polynya that was at the centre of a series of relinquished oil permits by Shell Canada last summer.

“Our findings indicate that the Arctic faces a pollution problem and that it is spreading in the North,” the report said.

“Considering the importance of the Arctic region for global climate and ecosystem health, identifying the changes in [human caused] stress and its direct or indirect sources provide future information for future projections to regulate human activities.”




More information

Paper: Marine litter on deep Arctic seafloor continues to increase and spreads to the North at the HAUSGARTEN observatory.


‘Great Pacific garbage patch’ far bigger than imagined, aerial survey shows

Source: The Guardian


The vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is far worse than previously thought, with an aerial survey finding a much larger mass of fishing nets, plastic containers and other discarded items than imagined.

A reconnaissance flight taken in a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft found a vast clump of mainly plastic waste at the northern edge of what is known as the “great Pacific garbage patch”, located between Hawaii and California.

The density of rubbish was several times higher than the Ocean Cleanup, a foundation part-funded by the Dutch government to rid the oceans of plastics, expected to find even at the heart of the patch, where most of the waste is concentrated.

“Normally when you do an aerial survey of dolphins or whales, you make a sighting and record it,” said Boyan Slat, the founder of the Ocean Cleanup.

“That was the plan for this survey. But then we opened the door and we saw the debris everywhere. Every half second you see something. So we had to take snapshots – it was impossible to record everything. It was bizarre to see that much garbage in what should be pristine ocean.”

Read more

Milliken underlines its commitment to the environment by partnering with Healthy Seas

Leading designer and manufacturer of floor coverings, Milliken, has joined ‘Healthy Seas, a Journey from Waste to Wear’. Healthy Seas aims to recover discarded fishing nets from the seas and to regenerate them into high-quality ECONYL® yarn, which is subsequently turned into brand-new products such as Milliken carpets.

Alison Kitchingman, Director of Marketing and Design at Milliken said: “In line with our commitment to making a positive impact on workplace health, wellbeing and the environment we are delighted to now be a part of the Healthy Seas initiative. Joining enables us to demonstrate our support publically to this amazing project as well as contributing to future clean-up operations. Milliken’s journey towards sustainability is always evolving and we are proud to continually challenge ourselves not only to improve, but also to be transparent and fully accountable to all our stakeholders and communities.


Healthy Seas is an international initiative that recovers abandoned fishing nets that pollute our seas and coasts and thanks to the ECONYL ® Regeneration System the contained nylon is regenerated into high-quality yarn which is then turned into brand new sustainable textiles. According to a joint report by the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), an estimated 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets are left in our oceans each year, accounting for one-tenth of all marine litter. These nets, sometimes called “ghost fishing nets”, can often be found on and around shipwrecks. The nets remain in the marine ecosystem for hundreds of years. Many marine animals including whales, turtles and birds are captured and killed in the ghostnets, and this has a negative effect on marine ecosystems.


We are extremely proud to have Milliken on board”, said Maria Giovanna Sandrini, member of the Healthy Seas Steering Committee. “Thanks to the support of partners like Milliken, Healthy Seas has the possibility to grow and reach its goals such as raising awareness about the problem of marine litter and possible solutions.


For many years Milliken has been using ECONYL® 100% regenerated nylon to make their carpet tiles. Milliken now offers over 500 designs and colour options made with ECONYL® fiber. In 2016 Milliken launched its own Global Annual Sustainability Report, to provide complete transparency and accountability to all its stakeholders and communities.


Milliken has been a leader in environmental sustainability for more than a century. In fact, Milliken’s first recycling policy was established in 1900, and we began investing in renewable energy in 1912. By 1960, Milliken had formal policies in place to protect natural resources. Sustainability is at the core of Milliken’s philosophy to ‘do good’ for the world. With our unique combination of resources – passionate and talented associates around the world, unparalleled technological capabilities, and unique insights into what constitutes meaningful design – we are able to create revolutionary products and practices that improve productivity, preserve resources, and make the world a better place.” Jim McCallum, President of the global Milliken Floor Covering Division.

CCFMarine – Talks in July

July is set to be a great month for CCFMarine talks – monitoring our coastal birds, marine plastic pollution and whale population genetics! See text below and poster attached for details. All talks will be held in the David Attenborough building in Cambridge.

1 July 2016 (Friday) 4-5 pm : Monitoring our Coastal Birds
– by Dawn Balmer (British Trust for Ornithology)

Abstract: Using volunteer birdwatchers, the British Trust for Ornithology, in partnership with other organisations, has been monitoring the coastal wintering bird population of Britain and Ireland since the 1960s. Whilst some species have increased in numbers and range, others have declined and contracted their wintering range. Birds wintering in Britain and Ireland form part of the East Atlantic Flyway so it’s important to work with similar schemes across the flyway to put these changes in population into context.

15 July 2016 (Friday) 4-5 pm : Marine Plastic pollution: How NGOs can collaborate with industry, brands and the public to protect biodiversity by reducing waste
– by Dilyana Mihaylova & Dan Steadman (Fauna & Flora International)
Abstract: There will be more plastic than fish in the world’s ocean by 2050 if our current emissions rates of this material are not reduced. As one of the predominant consumer and industrial materials of the modern age, we value plastic enough to use it in almost everything we need, but not enough to prevent 8 million tonnes of it entering the marine environment every year. Once in the ocean, plastic is a perfectly designed pollutant – persistent, bioaccumulative, additive-leaching and toxin-adsorbent – capable of negatively affecting organisms up and down the food chain. Fauna & Flora International have been working to reduce microplastic pollution since 2011 and have witnessed the strong need for collaboration between environmental NGOs, industry, regulators and the public to drive change in mitigating this pervasive biodiversity threat.
22 July 2016 (Friday) 4-5 pm : Whale Population Genetics
 – by Jennifer Jackson (British Antarctic Survey)

Microplastics killing fish before they reach reproductive age, study finds

Source: The Guardian


A pike (Esox lucius) feeds on perch that have ingested microplastic particles. Photograph: Oona Lönnstedt/Science

Fish are being killed, and prevented from reaching maturity, by the litter of plastic particles finding their way into the world’s oceans, new research has proved.

Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce.

The growing problem of microplastics – tiny particles of polymer-type materials from modern industry – has been thought for several years to be a peril for fish, but the study published on Thursday is the first to prove the damage in trials.

Microplastics are near-indestructible in natural environments. They enter the oceans through litter, when waste such as plastic bags, packaging and other convenience materials are discarded. Vast amounts of these end up in the sea, through inadequate waste disposal systems and sewage outfall.

Another growing source is microbeads, tiny particles of hard plastics that are used in cosmetics, for instance as an abrasive in modern skin cleaners. These easily enter waterways as they are washed off as they are used, flushed down drains and forgotten, but can last for decades in our oceans.

The impact of these materials has been hard to measure, despite being a growing source of concern. Small particles of plastics have been found in seabirds, fish and whales, which swallow the materials but cannot digest them, leading to a build-up in their digestive tracts.

Read more

Biodegradable plastic ‘false solution’ for ocean waste problem

Source: The Guardian

UN’s top environmental scientist warns bottles and bags do not break down easily and sink, as report highlights the ubiquity of plastic debris in oceans


Plastic litter washed up on Pembrey beach, Carmarthenshire, Wales, UK. A UNEP report says plastic litter is spreading from Arctic to the Antarctic. Photograph: Paul Quayle/Alamy

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned.

Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report published on Monday found.

Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution.

Read more