Although lying at the outer edge of Europe, the Arctic is not isolated and certainly not unaffected by human influence. Through ocean currents, large amounts of litter are transported from Europe to the Arctic every day and stay there, often locked in the ice. One could say that the Arctic acts like the drainage hole for plastics coming from Europe and North America.
Threat to wildlife and local communities
This continuous stream of plastics not only poses a threat to wildlife but also local communities and tourists who are unwittingly exposed to this waste. Animals of all sizes, from zooplankton to polar bears can be affected by ingesting plastics or getting entangled in ropes and nets. These same items also pose a safety risk to cruise ships because they can get caught in propellers.
Prevention is the solution
What can be done to solve this problem? Cleaning up beaches or collecting floating plastic from the Arctic sea could be an option but also an immense task, given that millions of tons of plastic items are stuck in the ice, on unreachable beaches or on the sea floor. And many more plastic items will still continue to arrive in the Arctic on a daily basis.
Knowing the sources to work on solutions
The most effective approach to reduce the amount of marine litter is prevention. Prevention is based on changing the behaviour and actions of people in order to stop or reduce litter entering the sea. A necessary first step in such a process is to identify the sources, behaviour and underlying processes that have resulted in litter ending up in the sea. The second step is to engage stakeholders in working on solutions. These steps are the ones we take in the Arctic Marine Litter project.
The Arctic Marine Litter Project
The aim of the Arctic Marine Litter project is to work on prevention by providing the necessary knowledge to take these steps with the stakeholders involved. The project is a collaborative, multidisciplinary project and involves partners throughout the Arctic. With the knowledge developed, the project will provide input for Arctic (policy) initiatives on marine litter such as the Arctic Council, OSPAR and others.
Further research is needed
As the problem is multi-faceted, there is no single solution. Therefore, working on solutions means working on a variety of issues, with a variety of stakeholders and a variety of scientific disciplines. This is something that Wageningen University & Research can offer.
But in order to do so, core funding and funding for certain specific activities or years is needed.