Observations of floating anthropogenic litter in the Barents Sea and Fram Strait, Arctic

Although recent reports indicate that anthropogenic waste has made it to the remotest parts of our oceans, there is still only limited information about its spread, especially in polar seas. Here, we present litter densities recorded during ship- and helicopter-based observer surveys in the Barents Sea and Fram Strait (Arctic). Thirty-one items were recorded in total, 23 from helicopter and eight from research vessel transects. Litter quantities ranged between 0 and 0.216 items km−1 with a mean of 0.001 (±SEM 0.005) items km−1. All of the floating objects observed were plastic items. Litter densities were slightly higher in the Fram Strait (0.006 items km−1) compared with the Barents Sea (0.004 items km−1). More litter was recorded during helicopter-based surveys than during ship-based surveys (0.006 and 0.004 items km−1, respectively). When comparing with the few available data with the same unit (items km−1 transect), the densities found herein are slightly higher than those from Antarctica but substantially lower than those from temperate waters. However, since anthropogenic activities in the Fram Strait are expanding because of sea ice shrinkage, and since currents from the North Atlantic carry a continuous supply of litter to the north, this problem is likely to worsen in years to come unless serious mitigating actions are taken to reduce the amounts of litter entering the oceans.

Melanie Bergmann, Nadja Sandhop, Ingo Schewe, Diederik D’Hert, Short Note, Polar Biology, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 553-560, March 2016

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