Marine Litter

Marine litter is defined as "any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.

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"Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discardedinto the sea or rivers or on beaches; brought indirectly to the sea with rivers, sewage, storm water or winds; accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather (fishing gear, cargo); or deliberately left by people on beaches and shores." (UNEP 2005: 3).

What type of litter is being caught?

Marine litter consists of a wide range of materials, including plastic, metal, wood, rubber, glass and paper. Although the relative proportions of these materials vary regionally, there is clear evidence that plastic litter is by far the most abundant type. In some locations plastics make up 90% of marine litter of shorelines. A similar predominance of plastics is reported from sampling at the sea surface and on the seabed. Most plastics are extremely durable materials and persist in the marine environment for a considerable period, possibly as much as hundreds of years.

Source: Fishing For Litter South West - Final Report 2011 - 2014

Marine litter is not only an aesthetic problem but incurs socioeconomic costs, threatens human health and safety and impacts on marine organisms. It is broadly documented that entanglement in, or ingestion of, marine litter can have negative consequences on the physical condition of marine animals such as birds, seals, turtles, porpoises and whales, and even lead to death. Ingestion of micro plastics is also of concern as it may provide a pathway for transport of harmful chemicals into the food web. Additionally, marine litter is known to damage and degrade habitats. (OSPAR 2014).

Amalgamated data from 40 years of sea birds studies predicts that 99% of seabirds will contain plastic by 2050. (Wilcox, Van Sebille, Hardesty 2015) The more plastic a seabird encounters, the more it tends to eat, which means that one of the best predictors of the amount of plastic in a seabird's gut is the concentration of ocean plastic in the region where it lives. This finding points the way to a solution: reducing the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean would directly reduce the amount that seabirds (and other wildlife) accidentally eat.


To quote a study - During 2003 - 2007, 95% of 1295 fulmars sampled in the North Sea had plastic in the stomach (on average 35 pieces weighing 0.31g) ... Long term data for the Netherlands since the 1980s show a decrease of industrial, but an increase of user plastics, with shipping and fisheries as the main sources. (van Franeker et al 2011)

The fishing fleet is both a recognised source of marine litter (13.9% of beach litter attributed to Fishing - Marine Conservation Society 2012 Beach watch results) and is affected by the increasing amounts in our seas. The KIMO report on the Economic Impacts of Marine Litter (Mouat, Lopez Lozano and Bateson, 2010) found that rubbish costs the Scottish fishing fleet approximately £11.5 million each year. Dumped catch, repairs to gear and lost fishing time due to marine litter, costs each vessel approximately £10,000 per boat on average each year. Each boat is calculated to take 41 hours a year to remove marine debris from its nets, a significant amount of a boats days at sea allocation. It is therefore essential that continued action be taken to reduce what is currently a significant marine pollution problem.

The cost to local authorities?

In addition to this, huge amounts of litter wash up as an eyesore on our coastline every year. The problem costs local authorities money to clear up, ultimately costing us more in taxes. It is in everyone's interest to ensure that there is as little marine litter in the sea as possible.

Marine litter is a global problem threatening ecosystems; it has socio-economic costs and can also pose a threat to human health. Fishing for Litter is an effective, proactive response to the problem which engages one of the key marine stakeholder groups and encourages best practice.

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