Public Domain

Project of the Week #18: Marine Litter Watch

What does this project do?
Gets individuals and especially whole communities around Europe involved in monitoring and, if wished, cleaning up of litter on European beaches. It's run by the European Environment Agency.

What do I have to do?
Go to your App store (on either Android or Apple products) and find the Marine LitterWatch app. You'll need an e-mail address and a password to register, and you'll need to go back to your e-mails and activate the link. If you prefer to use a computer rather than an app, the web portal is here. You will see that it contains several maps, in which you can zoom in and out and look around Europe. Is your favourite beach being monitored? (The ones near where Alice lived as a teenager, in Wales - a popular holiday destination - are not. She's now thinking she needs to contact the local Environment Agency.)

When you've got an account, you'll see a menu with options such as "Communities". It's clearly easiest to be part of a community rather than an individual, which may be a downside if you are not locally active. However, there is a list of communities, such as "Surfers Against Sewage", and you will probably be able to find one to suit you. Your community - or perhaps you, as community lead - might organise a monitoring event or a cleanup event.

Where can I find out more?
Marine LitterWatch's site is here. Informative parts are:
Their "at a glance" page
News stories, such as this and this
The online forum
Their data page, where you can download various results.

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is a regular Monday feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at info@togetherscience.eu. Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details
The European countries have a huge total coastline: the EU alone reaches 68,000km, much longer than the United States or Russia. We're a collection of relatively small countries among small seas. Nearly half our inhabitants live within 50km of the coast, and the coast is our most popular holiday destination. Cleanliness of beaches is important, with multi-national schemes such as Blue Flag Beaches causing a great deal of talk, competition and worry in some local authorities (Alice recalls an employee of a water company in Wales, whose task was to monitor local water, remarking that a dog urinating could cause an entire beach to lose its Blue Flag status).

So far, Marine LitterWatch's data page shows that 390,956 pieces of litter have been counted (it is probably more by now); of these, 87.1% were plastic, 5.2% were glass or ceramics, 3.7% were metal, 1.6% cloth or textile, 1.4% paper or cardboard, 0.6% rubber and 0.4% were processed or worked wood.

Several scientific studies have found detailed information on the wildlife, acidification and effects of climate change on European beaches. However, the precise effects of litter on the marine environemnt is less well known. It is certainly the object of a good deal of publicity, however. Newspaper headlines regularly report rises of a third, or 10%, of litter found on beaches over a year or two's surveying. But given the sea's currents, and ability to mix up the sand and other objects, litter can spread, and has even been found in the deepest place on Earth. There are far too many tragic stories of, for example, turtles ingesting plastic bags (which in water often look like jellyfish, which turtles eat), or turtles or other sea creatures who got caught in plastic rings - and had to grow their bodies around these if this happened before they reached full size.

A most adorable way to track both ocean currents and the spread of human-made items was found with the help of 28,000 shipwrecked rubber ducks, which were lost at sea in 1992 and 19 years later were still turning up all over the world!

If you're interested, there are some extremely detailed EU guidelines on how to effectively monitor marine litter. There are also various awareness raising projects, some of which go so far as to recommend businesses which avoid plastics or microplastics in their products. And there are several other projects tackling this and similar problems, such as Open Litter Map and Polar Latitudes. So, if the picture all looks too grim, then at least we know that there are people working hard to do something and there are many more policies being adopted.