Optimising beached litter monitoring protocols through aerial imagery

The monitoring of beached litter along the coast is an onerous obligation enshrined within a number of legislative frameworks (e.g. the MSFD) and which requires substantial human resources in the field. Through this study, we have optimised the protocol for the monitoring of the same litter along coastal stretches within an MPA in the Maltese Islands through aerial drones, with the aim of generating density maps for the beached litter, of assisting in the identification of the same litter and of mainstreaming this type of methodology within national and regional monitoring programmes for marine litter. Concurrent and concomitant in situ monitoring of beached litter enabled us to ground truth the aerial imagery results. Results were finally discussed within the context of current and future MSFD monitoring obligations, with considerations made on possible future policy implications.

A. Deidun, A. Gauci, S. Lagorio, F. Galgani, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 131, Part A, June 2018, Pages 212–217

The article


Is the microplastic selective according to the habitat? Records in amphioxus sands, Mäerl bed habitats and Cymodocea nodosa habitats

This study estimated for the first time the total loads of plastic litter (macro- meso- and micro-plastics) in sediments of different habitat types from the Northern Adriatic Sea. Samples were collected in March 2016. The sampling sites were settled in shoreline, on the C. nodosa bottoms, Amphioxus sands, and Mäerl bed habitats. Microplastics items were present in all sampling site and ranging within 137-703 items/kg d.w. from Mäerl bed habitat to the shoreline. In C. nodosa bottoms 170 items/kg d.w. were found, while in Amphioxus sands were recorded on average 194 items/kg d.w. Due to the absence of statistical associations among litter levels and abundance of B. lanceolatum in the study area, this research present the needs to develop a new method and more research to for the evaluation of how much the interrelation between sensible habitats and microplastic exist.

M. Renzi, A. Blašković, P. Fastelli and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 130, May 2018, Pages 179-183

The article

Below the surface: Twenty-five years of seafloor litter monitoring in coastal seas of North West Europe (1992–2017)

Marine litter presents a global problem, with increasing quantities documented in recent decades. The distribution and abundance of marine litter on the seafloor off the United Kingdom’s (UK) coasts were quantified during 39 independent scientific surveys conducted between 1992 and 2017. Widespread distribution of litter items, especially plastics, were found on the seabed of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea. High variation in abundance of litter items, ranging from 0 to 1835 pieces km−2 of seafloor, was observed. Plastic tems such as bags, bottles and fishing related debris were commonly observed across all areas. Over the entire 25-year period (1992–2017), 63% of the 2461 trawls contained at least one plastic litter item. There was no significant temporal trend in the percentage of trawls containing any or total plastic litter items across the long-term datasets. Statistically significant trends, however, were observed in specific plastic litter categories only. These trends were all positive except for a negative trend in plastic bags in the Greater North Sea – suggesting that behavioural and legislative changes could reduce the problem of marine litter within decades.

T. Maes, J. Barry, H.A. Leslie and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 630, 15 July 2018, Pages 790–798

The article

Plastic ingestion by harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in the Netherlands: Establishing a standardised method

Stomach contents of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) collected in the Netherlands between 2003 and 2013 were inspected for the presence of plastic and other man-made litter. In 654 stomach samples the frequency of occurrence of plastic litter was 7% with less than 0.5% additional presence of non-synthetic man-made litter. However, we show that when a dedicated standard protocol for the detection of litter is followed, a considerably higher percentage (15% of 81 harbour porpoise stomachs from the period 2010–2013) contained plastic litter. Results thus strongly depended on methods used and time period considered. Occurrence of litter in the stomach was correlated to the presence of other non-food remains like stones, shells, bog-wood, etc., suggesting that litter was often ingested accidentally when the animals foraged close to the bottom. Most items were small and were not considered to have had a major health impact. No evident differences in ingestion were found between sexes or age groups, with the exception that neonates contained no litter. Polyethylene and polypropylene were the most common plastic types encountered. Compared to earlier literature on the harbour porpoise and related species, our results suggest higher levels of ingestion of litter. This is largely due to the lack of dedicated protocols to investigate marine litter ingestion in previous studies. Still, the low frequency of ingestion, and minor number and mass of litter items found in harbour porpoises in the relatively polluted southern North Sea indicates that the species is not a strong candidate for annual monitoring of marine litter trends under the EU marine strategy framework directive. However, for longer-term comparisons and regional differences, with proper dedicated protocols applied, the harbour porpoise has specific use in quantifying litter presence in the, for that specific objective, poorly studied benthic marine habitat.

Jan A. van Franeker, Elisa L. Bravo Rebolledo, Eileen Hesse, Lonneke L. IJsseldijk, Susanne Kühn, Mardik Leopold, Lara Mielke, Ambio,  pp 1–11, 01/2018

The article

Is it possible to implement a complex adaptive systems approach for marine systems? The experience of Italy and the Adriatic Sea


• This paper evaluates the implementation of the MSFD in the Adriatic Sea.
• The MSFD is the first policy for marine complex adaptive systems in the EU.
• Ecological and jurisdictional boundaries overlap and cross-border cooperation is low.
• Integrative assessments of marine systems may be impossible to achieve.
• Relative isolation of theoretical approaches and management practices.

Emanuele Bigagli, Ocean & Coastal Management, Volume 149, 15 November 2017, Pages 81–95

The article

Marine Strategy Framework Directive: Innovative and participatory decision-making method for the identification of common measures in the Mediterranean

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the European Commission’s flagship initiative for the protection of the European Seas, and the first holistic approach to ensuring that European Seas reach and are maintained at what is called a ‘Good Environmental Status’ by the year 2020. Regional cooperation, especially between neighbouring countries, and involvement of all interested parties, are horizontal principles of the MSFD, and particularly apply to the definition of programmes of measures, the principal instrument through which each Member State will implement its marine strategy. This paper presents the results from a dedicated, participatory, structured decision-making process that was implemented within the framework of the ActionMed project, which aimed to bring experts and policy/decision-makers from Mediterranean neighbouring countries together, to discuss and agree upon common measures for implementation in their sub-regions. It shows that a participatory approach, supported by customised, case specific intelligent tools, that follows expertly facilitated, structured workshops can be a successful way to enhance sub-regional collaboration. The paper also presents the top ranking measures, selected by experts and decision-makers for common implementation in two Mediterranean sub-regions.

Xenia I. Loizidou, Michael I. Loizides, Demetra L. Orthodoxou, Marine Policy, Volume 84, October 2017, Pages 82–89

The article

Strandings of NE Atlantic gorgonians

Northeast coral gardens provide vital breeding and feeding habitats for fishes of conservation and commercial importance. Such habitats are increasingly at risk of destruction as a result of over fishing, ocean warming, acidification and marine litter.

A key cause for concern regarding the vulnerability of coral gardens to damage from any source is their slow growth rate, and thereby their ability to recover from damage. Hence protected areas are being put in place, which exclude the use of towed demersal fishing gear.

Citizen scientists observed that gorgonian coral (Pink Sea Fans) skeletons were stranding on beaches entangled in marine debris (sea fangles) across southwest England. Further, SCUBA divers reported that gorgonian corals were being caught up and damaged in lost fishing gear and other marine litter.

To determine the cause of the damage to coral gardens, sea fangles were collected and analysed.

The sea fangles were made up of a diverse range of litter from fishing and domestic sources, however, the majority comprised of fishing gear (P < 0.05).

Marine Protected Areas can protect coral gardens from direct fishing pressure, but risks still remain from ghost fishing pressure, demonstrating the need for sources of litter into the environment to be reduced and existing litter removed.

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) outlines targets for marine litter by 2020. This study highlights the importance of adhering to the MSFD and/or creating more ambitious regulation if the UK re-write existing legislation following BREXIT.

E.V. Sheehan, A. Rees, D. Bridger, T. Williams, J.M. Hall-Spencer, Biological Conservation, Volume 209, May 2017, Pages 482–487

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