The distribution and composition of macro litter floating around oceanic islands is poorly known, especially in the North Atlantic. Due to its isolated location at the fringe of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, the Azores archipelago has recently been proposed as a potential retention zone for floating litter. To further investigate this assumption, opportunistic surveys from pole-and-line tuna fishing boats were performed from 2015 to 2017 to document (1) the distribution and (2) the composition of the floating macro litter present off the Azores and Madeira islands. Among the 2406 visual transects, 482 floating debris were recorded and were mainly composed of general plastic user items (48%), plastic packaging (21%) and derelict fishing gears (18%). Average number of debris per transect was 0.19 ± 0.5, with a total number ranging between 0 and 5 items per transect. For the majority of transects (84%), no debris was observed, 13% of the transects contained a single item, and only 3% contained more than one item. Although debris between 2.5 and 5 cm were recorded, 93% of the debris were larger than 5 cm. The GLMs showed strong effect of the observer (p < 0.001) and the standardized densities accounting for the observer bias were higher (1.39 ± 0.14 items.km-2) than the observed densities (0.78 ± 0.07 items.km−2). Debris densities were however relatively low and tended to aggregate around the Central group of the Azores (standardized mean: 0.90 ± 0.20 items.km−2). Our findings therefore suggest that most of the debris might originate from far away land-based sources and from fishing activities. This study highlights the potential of fisheries observer programs to obtain cost-effective information on floating macro debris that are essential to support the implementation of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
P. Chambault, F. Vandeperre, M. MAchete and al., Marine Environmental Research, Volume 141, October 2018, Pages 225-232