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voice on marine pollution"

Kommunenes Internasjonale Miljøorganisasjon

Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation

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Marine Litter
        An increasing threat to the health of our marine eco-systems




The Problem...

There is an abundance of scientific evidence, which proves that sea life has been significantly affected by the increase in marine waste. Thousands of species of bird, fish and mammals are suffering every year in Europe's waters as a result of this problem.

Ecological Impact of Marine Litter

Marine litter has a large impact on the marine environment as more than 1 million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from becoming entangled in or ingesting marine litter.  Animals can often become entangled in discarded ropes and nets or trapped in plastic containers. Plastic strapping bands can also be dangerous for inquisitive animals such as seals. They swim through the bands catching them around their necks and as the animal grows, the bands cut into their skin. Many different types of animals mistake litter items for prey. Turtles have been known to ingest plastic bags as they resemble jellyfish while floating in the water.  Also 98% of Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs which can lead to a loss of physical condition resulting in breeding failures and in severe cases death.


The average fulmar has 0.34 grams of plastic in its stomach. This might not seem a large amount but for a human it would be the equivalent of eating the plate to the left. The removal of marine litter from the seabed will have a large benefit to wildlife. Plastic, the predominate type of marine litter, can cause entanglement or be ingested by marine mammals and birds. A recent study by Plymouth University has also shown the alarming prevalence of microscopic plastic particles in northern seas, which can be taken up by filter feeders. All of these groups would benefit from a reduction in marine litter.


Also as levels of marine litter reduces fishermen themselves will achieve a long term benefit as currently marine litter damages their catches and costs them loss of valuable time at sea. Due to the estimated reduction in litter arriving ashore there will also be a benefit to local authorities that are required to clean amenity beaches in their area and for the public who use them. Other positive impacts will be experienced by various other industries in coastal areas for example, in the aquaculture industry as marine litter can clog and damage cages and nets.


The images below illustrate an alarming comparison to the volume of marine litter inside a young fulmar's stomach. On the left is what is permanently held within a bird's stomach. On the right is the equivalent volume of plastics if it were in a human's stomach.


Would you like to carry around all of this in your stomach everyday?



The Economic and Social Impact of Marine Litter

The issue of marine litter is a common problem for coastal local communities and other organisations throughout the world. A wide range of studies and surveys employing many different methodologies have been undertaken over the years to assess the problem. These have attempted to address the problems of collecting data on the volumes, types, origin and other factors relating to marine litter and oil. There is much less research and data available about the economic and social impacts of these substances.


In 2000, KIMO International presented the results of a two-year project to investigate the economic and social impacts of marine litter on coastal communities. The report demonstrates the significant costs to coastal communities not previously acknowledged and demonstrates not only that polluters of the oceans are not being caught but that they are not being made to pay for their actions either.


The fishing industry has long been associated with the contribution of marine pollution but little work has been done on the effects on the industry itself of marine debris and other pollution.When questioned about the effects of marine debris on their fishing activities, Shetland fishermen responded that 92% had recurring problems with accumulated debris in nets, 69% had had their catch contaminated by debris and 92% had snagged their nets on debris on the seabed. Many also experienced fouled propellers and blocked intake pipes. On average, 1-2 hours per week were spent clearing debris from nets. Debris could cause a restricted catch and many boats avoided particular fishing areas altogether due to the high concentrations of debris. 



Image courtesy of John Butterwith, Chief Executive, North Devon Fishermen's Association
The catch, net and other equipment could be contaminated by oil containers, paint tins, oil filters and other chemicals, resulting in a potential loss of revenue of up to £2,000 per incident. Large items such as wires and old nets may be collected off the seabed and may damage the nets. The image to the right, kindly provided by John Butterwith, Chief Executive of the North Devon Fishermen's Assocation, highlights how marine litter can become entangled in nets. A fouled propeller could cost up to £300 for the hire of a diver to disentangle it and result in a substantial amount of lost fishing time. It is estimated that each boat could lose between £6,000 and £30,000 per year due to the effects and presence of marine debris. If 50% of the Shetland fishing fleet was affected in the same way, the cost to the local industry could be £492,000–2,460,000 per year. Similarly, the cost of marine debris to the fishing community of the Swedish Bohus region was estimated to be over £620,000 each year.   

According to reports from fishermen in both Shetland and Esbjerg (Denmark), small inshore boats appear to be more susceptible to marine debris than large pelagic boats. This may be because the larger offshore boats are fishing mid-water and are therefore less likely to collect debris on or near the seabed. Smaller boats may also notice the presence of marine debris more than larger boats as they have less crew and a lower profit margin, so any time or money lost will affect them more. Fishing vessels, along with the fish farming industry, are perhaps the main sources of discarded fishing net, line, rope, crab pots, floats, fish feed bags, polystyrene blocks and fish boxes . In turn, fishermen are finding an increasing amount of plastic debris amongst their catch, which not only takes time to remove, but plastic bottles and old net can themselves damage freshly caught fish. Moreover, there have been cases whereby plastic has blocked cooling systems causing engines to overheat. In some areas around the UK, such as the Bristol Channel, the problem has reached such a state whereby fishermen, when removing plastic items entangled in their nets, voluntarily place them in plastic bin liners for disposal by the local council at their base ports.

It has been noted that much of what is known about the impact of litter on fishing activities is based on anecdotal evidence. Litter found in an offshore fishing bank caused a serious economic loss to fishermen in Swansea Bay. The UK National Federation of Fishermen’s Organization have confirmed that marine litter is a cause of concern around Britain's coasts, but no attempts have been made to quantify the extent of the problem. Problems with propeller fouling, blocked intake pipes and damaged drive shafts have been reported in the North Sea, Alaska and the East Coast of North America According to two studies done in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, 40–60% of bottom trawls collected plastic and metal debris. Inshore fishing is particularly important for Orkney, Shetland and the West Coast of Scotland, where the majority of small vessels are based. Scotland's fishing industry handled 71% of all UK fish landings into the UK in 1994, with a market value of some £279.3 million. Peterhead, Scotland’s major fish market, is the largest in Western Europe. The fishing industry is also a vital source of employment in Scotland. It is estimated that there are over 8,500 people directly employed as fishermen, with a further 13,000 employed onshore in fishing related activity. Many of these people live around the coastline of Scotland.  

Shetland fishermen have estimated the value of one hour of their time to be £30–120 per hour (average £67). Using the average figure, the losses to an average Shetland fishing vessel would, annually, be as follows:


·                 £3,500–7,000 due to lost time clearing nets of debris

·                 £250–1,000 cleaning equipment and nets of contaminants

·                 £100–10,000+ due to time lost fixing nets

·                 £60–500 due to time lost with fouled propeller

·                 £2,000–10,000+ to repair nets

·                 £50–300 to un-foul propeller

·                 £100 for gear box inspection

·                 £6,000 – 30,000 per vessel assuming only one incident per year and working only 40 hours per week.





Practical Action: Fishing for Litter

KIMO International coordinates a project called Fishing for Litter. It is a proactive attempt to improve the quality of Europe's waters, bolstering the financial foundation of the fishing industry whilst benefiting the marine environment. Fishing for Litter is an active environmental response to the progressive increase of marine litters in the seas around Great Britain, Scandinavia and Western Europe. The aim of the original Dutch project was to clear the North Sea from litter by bringing ashore the litter that is trawled up as part of fishing activities and disposing of it on land. This is achieved by providing large hard wearing bags to the boats so that the waste can be easily collected and deposited on the quayside. Since the project launched in 2005, the number of harbours and fishermen involved have steadily increased as word spread about how simple yet effective the project could be run. The scheme now operates in all of Scotland’s Designated Landing Ports (DLPs). KIMO in partnership with Seafood Cornwall Training have recently launched the project in the South West of England and six harbours are currently participating in this region. In conjunction, the Scottish Fishing for Litter project has recently been re-launched and will run unitl 2012. The project continues to flourish in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Watch the video below and explore the Fishing for Litter project section of our website to learn more.


Scientific research: The emerging threat of micro-plastics

Dr Richard Thompson and Dr Steve J Rowland from the University of Plymouth have begun researching the potential environmental affects of microplastics. Below is an extract from their scientific proposal:

Plastics have brought many societal benefits and are hugely important in modern life. As a consequence annual production has increased from 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to over 230 million tonnes today. Because of their durability, discarded plastic items are accumulating in landfill and as litter in terrestrial and aquatic habitats. This debris poses a global environmental problem and has been identified as one of the most important pollution-related issues in the UK.

Since most plastics are buoyant the problems associated with this debris are particularly evident in marine habitats where over 180 species including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates are known to ingest plastic. The incidence of ingestion can be extremely high. For example, in the North Sea over 95% of Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) were found to have plastic in their guts. There is increasing concern that ingestion of plastic debris presents a hazard to wildlife and could lead to the transfer toxic chemicals to the food chain.  Our research, at the University of Plymouth, has shown that plastic debris is fragmenting in the environment and that microscopic pieces of common polymers including polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene are now present on shorelines and in the water column throughout the North East Atlantic. Pieces as small as 2µm have been identified and their abundance has increased over the last 40 years. Some samples of strandline material now contain more that 10% plastic and because conventional polymers will not biodegrade it seems inevitable that the abundance of these fragments will continue to increase. Their abundance together with their size mean that such fragments could be ingested by a wide range of organisms including birds, fish and small invertebrates. Fragments of plastic have been shown to concentrate pollutants that have arisen in the environment from other sources. 

Dr Richard Thompson, a leading expert in this area, was invited by KIMO to give a presentation on the subject at the OSPAR EIHA working group and KIMO Sweden undertook a monitoring programme in Swedish West coast waters. Both of these studies show that Microplastics are abundant and prevalent in all areas of the marine environment however currently the impact of this type of plastic on marine life and the food chain is unknown. The KIMO Secretariat is currently in discussions with a variety of potential financiers to support this project.

The KIMO Sweden report on micro-plastics from 2007 can be downloaded here.

Download the full microplastics research proposal here.


Information and Resource Centre
        Learn more about marine litter

KIMO Resolutions

Press Releases 

Fishing for Litter: Incident highlights the real cost of marine litter - 02 September 2010
The skipper and crew of the Newlyn based trawler the "Elizabeth N" narrowly escaped a serious incident in the Bristol Channel last week when their propeller got caught up in lost fishing gear. Read more.

One Hundred Tonnes of Rubbish Removed from Scotland's Seas - 13th January 2010
Fishing vessels voluntarily taking part in the current Fishing For Litter project have removed over 100 tonnes of marine litter from the seas around Scotland since April 2008 in a bid to tackle the pollution problem. Read more.

Star of the BBC's Trawlermen highlights Fishing for Litter's significant impact - 15 April 2009
The star of the BBC's Trawlermen television series, Jimmy Buchan, captain of the fishing vessel Amity II, has recently highlighted Fishing for Litter's significant impact in reducing the volume of marine litter found on Europe's seabeds. Read more.

International Experts on Marine Litter Meet in Shetland - 11 June 2008
Experts from Northern Europe met last weekend in Shetland to continue work on developing monitoring techniques and to develop proposals to address the issue of marine litter. Read more.

British-Irish Council Supports Fishing for Litter Initiatives - 09 February 2008
At the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council Environment Sectoral Group Ministers agreed to support Fishing for Litter Schemes within their jurisdictions. The proposal came from the Isle of Man who presented a paper highlighting Fishing for Litter, which is coordinated by KIMO UK, as an innovative response to the environmental and economic impact of marine litter on coastal communities.   Read more.

OSPAR Highlights KIMO Pioneering Work on Fishing for Litter - 04 July 2007
At its Commission meeting this week, in Ostende, Belgium, OSPAR chose marine litter as one of the main themes at its press conference highlighting the pioneering Fishing for Litter initiative as a significant measure in addressing the problem. Guidelines on Developing Fishing for Litter projects developed by KIMO International were approved along with other measures on marine litter such as a Marine Beach Litter Monitoring Programme, led by the Netherlands and Belgium. Read more.

BBC’s Landward Features Fishing for Litter Scotland - 20 October 2006
The Fishing for Litter Scotland Project, co-ordinated by KIMO UK, is to be featured by the BBC’s primetime rural affairs programme Landward on Sunday the 22nd October. The programme interviewed many of the participants in the scheme including captain Tom Hemmingway Harbourmaster in Peterhead, Jimmy Buchan Skipper of the Amity II, recently feature on the Trawlermen series, and the Project Co-ordinator John Mouat. Read more.

Related Reports

KIMO has authored a number of reports documenting the organisation's stance on marine litter. See below for details:

Fishing for Litter Scotland Final Report      2005 - 2008
The Fishing for Litter Final Report 2005 - 2008 has been completed and is now available to download. The report contains background information on Fishing for Litter's origins, development, targets, successes, final results & monitoring data. The document is an essential companion to anyone interested in participating in the initiative. Read more... 

Microscopic Plastic Particles in Swedish Coastal Waters
In the summer of 2007 N-Research undertook a study of microplastics in Swedish coastal waters for KIMO Sweden. The results showed a much higher prevalence of small plastic particles than expected. Read more... 

Fishing for Litter Activities 2009 - OSPAR Report
KIMO's report to the OSPAR Commission in 2007 on Fishing for Litter activities within the OSPAR Region. Read more...

Save the North Sea Final Report
The save the North Sea Final Report outlines the results and achievements of the the project over its three years. Read more...  

Impacts of Marine Debris and Oil - Economic and Social Costs to Coastal Communities
The problem of marrine litter and oil deposited on coasts is a common problem for coastas local communities and other organisations throughout the world. Read more...


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