One of the most powerful tools in the fight against marine litter is data. When we quantify the problem and provide figures as solid evidence to our policy makers, we are able to demonstrate the full scale of the problem and drive real change for the Ocean.
The value of data collection is at the heart of this current Marine Litter Watch Month. To support the European Environmental Agency’s Marine Litter Watch platform, this month-long event is celebrated from September 17th to October 16th, 2020.
Tracking waste thanks to an online platform
New this year, the Marine Litter Watch mobile application has developed into an online platform that allows European citizens to record waste found during clean-ups. The user-friendly platform has an integrated list of commonly found items and signing up requires only a few steps before you can start collecting, sorting and reporting. With the data collected, European Environment Agency is able to construct an interactive map that provides a comprehensive view of marine litter pollution in Europe.
Why track marine litter?
Only half of what community programs like Ocean Initiatives do is clean and preserve our natural spaces. The other half, which can be argued as even more valuable, is the information gathering. Self-reported data helps organizations better understand the condition of our coastlines and waterways. It tells us where to find pollution hotspots and what kind of waste is the biggest threat to the environment. With this knowledge, we are able to direct our efforts to the root of the problem and heighten public awareness.
Thus, the more people involved, the larger our pool of data becomes, and the greater our chances are of making an impact on policy makers to drive sustainable change that betters Ocean health. This is what we call participatory science! By collecting and quantifying waste on beaches or inland, citizens are major actors in this wave of mobilization against marine litter pollution. Public participation is vital to building a comprehensive picture of the problem and enriching this database.
Participatory science allows small actions to lead to big changes. The Single-Use Plastics Directive, adopted in 2019, is proof of this. The European Commission used citizen data published in the Ocean Initiatives Environmenntal Report in their argument to adopt this unprecedented legislation.
A major problem
Every year, approximately 8 million tons of plastic end up in the Ocean. This epidemic impairs the Ocean’s ability to produce oxygen, suffocates the marine ecosystems and destroys biodiversity. During the 7 years that Marine Litter Watch has been active, participants have reported more than 2 million waste items collecting through 3288 collections organized throughout Europe. More than 80% of these items were plastic objects.
This year, public safety is the main priority and gathering in large groups for clean-ups is not recommended. However, collecting data is something we can all do independently. For Marine Litter Watch Month revisit beaches where you’ve previous held clean ups and take account of the current condition compared to years past, or find a new area to explore!
Two new items have been added to the database and can now be identified: masks and disposable gloves. This will enable the organization’s experts to study the impact of the health crisis on pollution due to marine litter.
On the occasion of Marine Litter Watch Month, and throughout the year, we can all take action against marine litter. This dedicated event is an opportunity to unite our efforts as one community working to stop the problem at its source.
A version of this article was originally written and published by Surfrider Europe.
KIMO International is a network of local governments working together to protect and preserve the seas that sustain us. Follow KIMO International on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and sign up for our email updates.