Arctic Beach Cleanups
By Anne Kalosh.
As the Arctic cruise season draws to a close, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) looked back on the results of the summer’s efforts to combat marine plastic pollution.
AECO’s environmental agent Sarah Auffret has been working with cruise operators to identify ways to reduce the use of disposable plastic. The association’s United Nations-affiliated Clean Seas campaign also focuses on involving more expedition cruise passengers in beach cleanups.
According to Auffret, people are becoming more aware of the problem of marine litter.
“The project is about cutting down on single-use plastic and cleaning up litter that has already found its way to the ocean, but it’s also about educating people. Photos of polar bears chewing on Styrofoam send a strong message about how important it is that we change our habits,” Auffret said.
She’s impressed with what has been achieved in a just few busy months. Having visited 21 ships, Auffret saw changes, for example, water dispensers installed to replace plastic water bottles.
And at least 127 cleanups were completed by expedition cruise ships this summer, often in remote coastal areas where they can make a big difference. According to Auffret, fishing nets and other debris can have devastating effects on wildlife, so every cleanup counts.
In addition, AECO members are helping document the distribution, composition and origin of the waste they collect. This information can give researchers valuable insight that ultimately may help beat plastic pollution.
So far this summer, the combined cleanup efforts in Svalbard have collected more than 40,000 kilograms of marine litter. This impressive amount results from the volunteer efforts of AECO members, Svalbard’s local sports association, governor of Svalbard volunteer cruises, the Norwegian Coast Guard and even the Norwegian royal family.
“In addition to larger fishing nets and other objects, our members are doing an impressive job of picking up small pieces of plastic that litter the shore of so many beaches,” Auffet noted. “It’s tedious work, but it’s important to remove it before it breaks down to microplastics and enters the food chain.”
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