Citizen science can help establish baselines of plastic pollution on Arctic beaches and pin-point potential sources

Melanie.Bergmann [ at ]


Recent research has highlighted that marine debris has become pervasive in Arctic waters with an increasing trend on the seafloor. Nevertheless, since many areas are difficult to access, our knowledge remains scarce. Citizen science has the potential to increase the spatial and temporal scale of knowledge of plastic pollution, especially in under-sampled remote areas. Beaches on remote Arctic islands may be sinks for marine litter and reflect pollution levels of the surrounding waters quite well. Here, we present a framework that enabled us to assess beached and floating debris as well as microplastic pollution in beach sediment and snow samples from Svalbard and is embedded into the work of the FRAM Pollution Observatory. This talk will focus on surveys conducted during 15 beach clean-ups conducted by citizen scientists, which participated in sailing cruises around Svalbard between 2016-2021. In addition, we present data from more detailed analyses on the composition, origin, and potential sources of the debris based on the examination of three samples sent to the institute. In total 1,620 kg of debris was collected on 38,000 m2 (mean = 41.8 g m-2) and 23,000 debris items were collected on 25,500 m2 (mean = 0.37 items m-2). Although most debris was plastic in both abundance and mass, fisheries-related items such as nets, rope and large containers, dominated in mass (87%) and general plastics, such as packaging and plastic articles, dominated in abundance (80%). Fishery-related items point to sea-based sources, whereas the origin of general plastic is difficult to determine with certainty. The country of origin could be determined for ~3% of the 225 items, which still bore labels or imprints. Most items stem from nearby Arctic countries (local sources), such as Norway, Russia, Denmark (45%) and Atlantic countries, which were mostly European (22%). 4% originated from more distant sources (USA, Brazil, China, etc.). Our data point to local and distant sources. They show that mitigation in form of a binding global plastic treaty with better waste management and upstream measures is urgently needed, to lower the amount of plastic entering our oceans and in turn lifting the pressure on the Arctic region and its sensitive biota.

Item Type
Conference (Lecture)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Research Networks
Publication Status
Event Details
7th International Marine Debris Conference, 18 Sep 2022 - 23 Sep 2022, Busan, South Korea.
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Cite as
Bergmann, M. , Meyer, A. N. , Lutz, B. and Gutow, L. (2022): Citizen science can help establish baselines of plastic pollution on Arctic beaches and pin-point potential sources , 7th International Marine Debris Conference, Busan, South Korea, 18 September 2022 - 23 September 2022 .

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