Beach Litter Monitoring

D10 - Marine Litter

D10.1 - Characteristics of litter in the marine and coastal environment

Key Message

Litter is abundant on beaches in the OSPAR Maritime Area. Plastic fragments, fishing gear and packaging are the most common types of litter. About 90% of recorded items are plastic. From December 2009 to January 2018 litter abundance declined significantly on 23% of the survey sites and increased on 9%.

Background

OSPAR aim is to ‘substantially reduce marine litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area to levels where the properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment’.

This assessment describes the abundance and composition of beach litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area in the six year reporting period April 2012 to January 2017, and trends in the abundance of litter for the period December 2009 to January 2018. See Tables 1 and 2 for the number of surveys included in the assessment.

The abundance of marine litter in the OSPAR Maritime Area provides information on the magnitude of litter pollution in coastal areas, indicating spatial differences in litter pollution. The litter on a given beach may be generated locally at sea or on land, or may arrive from instant sources, transported by rivers and ocean currents.

Beach litter abundance and composition give an indication of the scale and magnitude of the problem, as well as the level of threat to the environment. Spatial differences in litter composition between survey sites indicate regional differences in sources and oceanic currents.

Changes in composition and trends in the abundance of beach litter highlight where reduction measures are needed and, when implemented, the extent of their success. In the Skagerrak area prevailing North Sea currents deposit relatively large amounts of litter on the coastline. Mean abundance of litter there is high in comparison with other OSPAR regions, although not always significantly so due to high variability.

 

Table 1: Number of surveys used in the analysis
Time periodsNumber of surveysComments
01.12.2009-31.01.20182086Eight years including 33 survey periods - 1 survey in 2009, 59 surveys in 2018 - for assessment of trends
01.04.2012-31.01.20181739Six years including 24 survey periods for assessment of state
Table 2: Number of surveys per OSPAR sub-region used in the analysis
Regionnumber of surveys 01.12.2009-31.01.2018number of surveys 01.04.2012-31.01.2018
1. Arctic Waters6358
2. Greater North Sea North329257
2. Greater North Sea South669512
3. Celtic Seas502443
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast515461
5. Wider Atlantic88
Total20861739

Marine litter is any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, abandoned or lost in the marine and coastal environment. It also includes items entering the marine environment via rivers, sewage outlets, storm water outlets and wind action.

Solid and liquid chemicals such as paraffin and oil, which are often recorded on beaches along with litter, are not included in this assessment.

The OSPAR indicator on beach litter is used to identify changes in the input of litter to the marine environment. The assessment is based on a time-series of abundance and type of litter items collected on a network of OSPAR survey sites.

According to the OSPAR beach litter monitoring guidelines, at each survey site all litter items on a 100-m stretch of coastline should be recorded four times a year using the OSPAR beach litter monitoring protocol (OSPAR 2010). However, due to limitations dictated by weather conditions, availability of manpower etc. not all survey sites included in this analysis have been surveyed as regularly as this for the whole period (Table a). On some survey sites, weather conditions prevent surveys in the winter survey period, other survey sites have only recently been added to the network of survey sites and surveys on other sites have been discontinued.

Table a: Spatial and temporal availability of data from OSPAR beach litter survey sites
RegionRefNoBeach name2009201020112012201320142015201620172018total
1. Arctic WatersGRL001Dagmar Island North St111
1. Arctic WatersGRL002Henryland - East Greenland112
1. Arctic WatersGRL003Sand Island, Young Sund112
1. Arctic WatersGRL004Kap Mary, Young Sund112
1. Arctic WatersGRL005Clavering Island, Young Sund112
1. Arctic WatersGRL006Stroem Island11
1. Arctic WatersGRL007Moraene Island, Taasiilaq11
1. Arctic WatersIS001Raudasandur112
1. Arctic WatersIS002Budavik235
1. Arctic WatersIS003Bakkavik2417
1. Arctic WatersIS004Surtsey island East112
1. Arctic WatersIS005Surtsey island West112
1. Arctic WatersIS006Rekavik bak Hofn11
1. Arctic WatersNO001Väret1113
1. Arctic WatersNO002Brucebukta11111117
1. Arctic WatersNO003Luftskipodden1111116
1. Arctic WatersNO004Rekvika222211212
1. Arctic WatersNO006Sandfjordneset1225
2. Greater North Sea NorthDK001MSFD Nymindegab Strand212233316
2. Greater North Sea NorthDK004MSFD Skagen Skagen Strand3339
2. Greater North Sea NorthNO005Kviljo122222213
2. Greater North Sea NorthNO007Ytre Hvaler1111116
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE004Haby3333333324
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE005Edsvik2133323320
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE006Saltö2233323321
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE007Grönevik233332319
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE008Edshultshall333333321
2. Greater North Sea NorthSE009Gröderhamn333333321
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK011Cramond Beach42444464133
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK012Menie Links - Balmedie314
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK018Linkim Shore246
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK046Mill Bay (Orkney)14534434432
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK047Kinghorn Harbour3233343526
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK049Robin Hood's Bay1353444327
2. Greater North Sea NorthUK050Saltburn3444434531
2. Greater North Sea SouthBE001Oostende53445223
2. Greater North Sea SouthBE003Raversijde24353118
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE001Sylt (island)44534524132
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE002Scharhörn (island)3333233323
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE003Minsener Oog (island)44444453133
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE005Juist44444543133
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE006Sylt Hörnum North213
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE007Mellum West314
2. Greater North Sea SouthDE008Juist Wilhelmshöhe314
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR004Le Havre1449
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR005Dieppe4444420
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR006Sein44533444132
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR007Koubou4444444533
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR008Kerizella44444444133
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR009Blancs Sablons14343419
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR010Porsmilin145331219
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR011Larmor Plougastel3334444126
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR012Trielen244414
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR015Dunes St Frieux257
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR016Boucaniers448
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR019La Grandville2417
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR020Le Valais2417
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR021Merville Franceville1416
2. Greater North Sea SouthFR022Zuydcoote44
2. Greater North Sea SouthNL001Bergen44444534133
2. Greater North Sea SouthNL002Noordwijk34444444132
2. Greater North Sea SouthNL003Veere44444444133
2. Greater North Sea SouthNL004Terschelling45344534133
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK016Chilton Chine3434115
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK040Seatown3342344326
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK041Polhawn13419
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK043Jubilee Beach2644448436
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK044Rottingdean45254243130
2. Greater North Sea SouthUK051Le Braye Slip111115
3. Celtic SeasIR001Long Strand3144444125
3. Celtic SeasIR002Silver Strand444444125
3. Celtic SeasIR003Carnesore244444123
3. Celtic SeasIR004Clogherhead - South3144444125
3. Celtic SeasUK001Hilbre Island122314417
3. Celtic SeasUK002Tan-y-Bwlch Beach34343444130
3. Celtic SeasUK005Freshwater East112
3. Celtic SeasUK014Allonby112
3. Celtic SeasUK020Sand Bay45775554143
3. Celtic SeasUK021Langland Bay76324243132
3. Celtic SeasUK025Ardglass14465121
3. Celtic SeasUK026Ballyhornan14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK027Minearny144211
3. Celtic SeasUK028Ballywalter14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK029Cloughey144211
3. Celtic SeasUK030Drains Bay234211
3. Celtic SeasUK031Hazelbank144211
3. Celtic SeasUK032Kilkeel North143144118
3. Celtic SeasUK033Portavogie14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK034Rathlin14344117
3. Celtic SeasUK035Rostrevor14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK036Runkerry14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK037Tyrella14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK038White Park Bay14444118
3. Celtic SeasUK039Tal-y-Foel1221135116
3. Celtic SeasUK045Lunderston Bay12534134124
3. Celtic SeasUK048Formby (Freshfields)11135112
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES001A Lanzada3433453126
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES002Baldaio4415434530
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES003Valdevaqueros beach444534529
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES004O Rostro4445344533
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES005La Vega4444453129
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES006Laga448
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES007Agiti45344121
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES008Menacoz5444421
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES009Berria44
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES010Covas54443121
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES011Castilla54344121
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES012Castilnovo4534521
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES013Oyambre4534117
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastES014Rodas453113
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastFR002Le Stang44412
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastFR013Betahon44
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastFR017La Barre344516
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT001Praia da Barra15344118
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT004Ilha de Faro44444121
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT005Batata44544122
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT007Cabedelo124444120
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT008Osso da Baleia34444120
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT009Amoeiras4344520
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT010Fonte da Telha43444120
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT011Monte Velho45443121
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT012Barranha15344118
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT013Porto Pim11
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT014Paredes de Vitória314
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT015Furadouro Sul11
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT016Aberta-Pedrogão11
4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian CoastPT017Baleal Leste112
5. Wider AtlanticPT018Areia - Corvo - Azores448
total number of surveys1126186181301301245339347592086

The data collected can be used to provide information on amounts, trends in abundance and sources of marine litter.

The surveys provide information on the magnitude of litter pollution in adjacent waters and coastal areas and can show spatial and temporal differences in litter pollution.

The litter on a given survey site may be generated locally at sea or on land, but may also arrive via ocean currents, rivers and wind drift from distant sources.

The litter recorded on the survey sites provides information on the frequency of individual litter types (e.g. plastic bags, metal cans), groups of litter types (e.g. single use plastics, fishing gear) and litter material categories (e.g. plastic, wood). This information helps to identify the sources of the litter and to some extent its level of threat to the marine environment (e.g. wood is not as harmful as plastic).

Spatial differences in litter composition can reflect regional differences in sources, which relate to differences in local or regional infrastructure and human activities. However, litter on the coastline can also originate from distant sources. Changes in composition can provide information on changes in sources as well as the effectiveness of measures (e.g. replacement of glass bottles by plastic bottles or, on the other hand, the introduction of recycling systems for plastic bottles).

Trends in total litter abundance or in the abundance of individual groups of litter types (e.g. fishing gear) generally provide information on changes in the level of pollution and on the effectiveness of measures introduced to reduce the input from different sources of marine litter. However, environmental factors such as climatic forces, prevailing winds and water currents can also influence deposition of litter on the coast at smaller and larger spatial scales. Environmental factors have not been taken into consideration in this assessment.

The litter encountered on beach litter survey sites can originate from human activities at sea such as shipping and fishing i.e. floating litter transported to and deposited on the coast by winds and water currents, or can be directly deposited on the coast by human activities such as touristism, recreation, or fly-tippers. A significant input of litter into the marine environment can also possibly be from items deposited inland on riverbanks or discharged directly or via storm-water drainage systems into rivers.

In the period between any two beach litter surveys, litter items that have been washed ashore by tides or deposited directly on to the beach may be buried, or removed by subsequent tides and winds. However, buried litter can also resurface during strong wave action and litter can be blown onto the beach from adjacent land or streets. Therefore, the amount of litter items recorded during any one survey will represent a steady state for litter deposited at that site.

In litter washed ashore, litter items that sink or disintegrate, dissolve or decay quickly in the marine environment are most likely to be under-represented compared to what we actually believe are littered at sea. The main category of litter found on beaches in the assessment period was ‘plastic and polystyrene’, which often floats and disintegrates extremely slowly in the marine environment. The main components of the other common litter categories all float and/or decay slowly (wood, bottles, jars, lightbulbs, paper cartons, tins and cans). The composition of litter recorded on beaches thus reflects its ability to reach the shore. Metal and glass are possibly under-represented because they are more likely to sink than items made of plastic, polystyrene, rubber and wood. Paper is also possibly under-represented because disintegrates more rapidly in water than the other items.

Although only a fraction of what is disposed of into the sea reaches the shore, the abundance of the items found can be used as an indication of the level of marine litter pollution in a given area, if it is assumed that the floating element of the litter represents a constant proportion of the total litter input. Surveys of litter items deposited on the seafloor (by recording litter caught in trawls during fish stock surveys) are used to identify trends in items that do not float (see OSPAR assessment of Composition and Spatial Distribution of Litter on the Seafloor).

Within the OSPAR Beach Litter Monitoring Programme, litter has been counted on standard stretches of coastline (survey sites) since 2001 on the North-East Atlantic coasts of Belgium, Denmark (including beaches in Greenland and on the Faeroe islands), France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The surveys are carried out according to the OSPAR Guideline for Monitoring Marine Litter on the Beaches in the OSPAR Maritime Area (OSPAR Agreement 2010-02).

The standard length of a survey site is 100-m of coastline. The entire area from the waterline to the back of the beach is surveyed, with the back of the beach determined for example by the presence of a dune or a sea wall.

The beaches, on which the survey sites are situated, mainly comprise of sand or gravel and are exposed to the open sea. They are in most cases accessible to surveyors all year round for surveying and litter removal. However some sites, such as in the north of the OSPAR Maritime Area, are not accessible or not possible to survey during the winter survey period. The beaches have a minimum length of 100 m, are generally free of buildings all year round, and are (in most cases) not subject to litter collection activities (beach cleaning). National coordinators of the surveys have used expert judgement and local knowledge of coastal areas when selecting the survey sites. For example, in some countries local conditions do not allow for selection of beaches mainly comprising sand, and in some locations it is not possible to select beaches of 100 m in length.

The start and end points of the survey sites are marked clearly, to ensure that exactly the same site is monitored for all surveys.

According to the OSPAR beach litter monitoring guidelines, at each survey site all litter items should be recorded four times a year using the OSPAR beach litter monitoring protocol. However, due to limitations dictated by weather conditions, availability of manpower etc. not all survey sites included in this analysis have been surveyed as regularly as this for the whole period (see Table a). Some survey sites have only recently been added to the network of survey sites and surveys on other sites have been discontinued.

The survey periods are as follows: winter (between mid-December and mid-January), spring (April), summer (between mid-June and mid-July), and autumn (between mid-September and mid-October).

Data on the amount of litter on a survey site is recorded at the litter-type level. In total, there are 112 predefined litter types. Each item found on the survey site is allocated to one of the 112 litter types. Items comprise identifiable pieces of litter, including items such as plastic bottles, tetra-pak containers, metal drinks cans, and rubber gloves as well as unidentifiable fragments of litter objects. The litter types are assigned to specific categories according to the material from which they are made (e.g. plastic, wood, metal) or their use (e.g. medical, sanitary): Plastic / polystyrene (54 litter types), Metal (15 litter types), Paper and cardboard (9 litter types), Wood (9 litter types), Sanitary waste (6 litter types), Cloth (5 litter types), Rubber (4 litter types), Glass (3 litter types), Pottery/ceramics (3 litter types), Medical waste (3 litter types) and Faeces (1 litter type). The list of litter types with their unique OSPAR identification number and their allocation to material types, single-use-plastics and fishing gear is presented in Table b.

Table b: OSPAR list of litter types and allocation to materials, SUPs and Fishing gear
OSPAR IDLitter TypeName DatabaseMaterialSingle-Use-Plastics Fishing Gear
14/6-pack yokesPlastic: Yokes [1]plastic/polystyrene
2Bags (shopping)Plastic: Bags [2]plastic/polystyreneSUP
3Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bagsPlastic: Small_bags [3]plastic/polystyreneSUP
112Plastic bag endsPlastic: Bag_ends [112]plastic/polystyrene
4Drinks bottles & containersPlastic: Drinks [4]plastic/polystyreneSUP
5Cleaner bottles & containersPlastic: Cleaner [5]plastic/polystyrene
6Food incl. fast food containersPlastic: Food [6]plastic/polystyreneSUP
7Cosmetics bottles & containersPlastic: Toiletries [7]plastic/polystyrene
8Engine oil bottles & containers <50 cmPlastic: Oil_small [8]plastic/polystyrene
9Engine oil bottles & containers> 50 cmPlastic: Oil_large [9]plastic/polystyrene
10Jerry cans (square plastic containers with handle)Plastic: Jerry_cans [10]plastic/polystyrene
11Injection gun containersPlastic: Injection_gun [11]plastic/polystyrene
12Other bottles & containersPlastic: Other_bottles [12]plastic/polystyrene
13CratesPlastic: Crates [13]plastic/polystyrene
14Car partsPlastic: Car_parts [14]plastic/polystyrene
15Caps/lidsPlastic: Caps [15]plastic/polystyreneSUP
16Cigarette lightersPlastic: Cigarettelighters [16]plastic/polystyrene
17PensPlastic: Pens [17]plastic/polystyrene
18Combs/hair brushesPlastic: Combs [18]plastic/polystyrene
19Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticksPlastic: Crisp [19]plastic/polystyreneSUP
20Toys & party poppersPlastic: Toys [20]plastic/polystyrene
21CupsPlastic: Cups [21]plastic/polystyreneSUP
22Cutlery/trays/strawsPlastic: Cutlery [22]plastic/polystyreneSUP
23Fertiliser/animal feed bagsPlastic: Fertiliser [23]plastic/polystyrene
24Mesh vegetable bagsPlastic: Meshbags [24]plastic/polystyrene
25GlovesPlastic: Gloves [25]plastic/polystyrene
113Gloves (industrial/professional rubber gloves)Plastic: Gloves_pro [113]plastic/polystyrene
26Crab/lobster potsPlastic: Lobsterpots [26]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
114Lobster and cod tagsPlastic: Fish_tags [114]plastic/polystyrene
27Octopus potsPlastic: Octopus_pots [27]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
28Oyster netsPlastic: Oyster_nets [28]plastic/polystyrene
29Oyster trays (round from oyster cultures)Plastic: Oyster_trays [29]plastic/polystyrene
30Plastic sheeting from mussel culture (Tahitians)Plastic: Mussel_sheeting [30]plastic/polystyrene
31Rope (diameter more than 1cm)Plastic: Rope [31]plastic/polystyrene
32String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)Plastic: String [32]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
115Nets and pieces of net < 50 cmPlastic: Fishing_net_small [115]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
116Nets and pieces of net > 50 cmPlastic: Fishing_net_large [116]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
33Tangled nets/cordPlastic: Tangled [33]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
34Fish boxesPlastic: Fishboxes [34]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
35Fishing line (angling)Plastic: Fishing_line [35]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
36Light sticks (tubes with fluid)Plastic: Light_sticks [36]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
37Floats/BuoysPlastic: Floats [37]plastic/polystyreneFishing gear
38BucketsPlastic: Buckets [38]plastic/polystyrene
39Strapping bandsPlastic: Strapping [39]plastic/polystyrene
40Industrial packaging, plastic sheetingPlastic: Industrial [40]plastic/polystyrene
41Fibre glassPlastic: Fibre_glass [41]plastic/polystyrene
42Hard hatsPlastic: Hard_hats [42]plastic/polystyrene
43Shotgun cartridgesPlastic: Shotgun [43]plastic/polystyrene
44Shoes/sandalsPlastic: Shoes [44]plastic/polystyrene
45Foam spongePlastic: Foam_sponge [45]plastic/polystyrene
117Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cmPlastic: Plastic_small [117]plastic/polystyrene
46Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cmPlastic: Plastic_large [46]plastic/polystyrene
47Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cmPlastic: Plastic_vlarge [47]plastic/polystyrene
48Other plastic/polystyrene itemsPlastic: Other [48]plastic/polystyrene
49BalloonsRubber: Balloons [49]rubberSUP
50BootsRubber: Boots [50]rubber
52Tyres and beltsRubber: Tyres [52]rubber
53Other rubber piecesRubber: Other [53]rubber
54ClothingCloth: Clothing [54]cloth/textile
55FurnishingCloth: Furnishings [55]cloth/textile
56SackingCloth: Sacking [56]cloth/textile
57ShoesCloth: Shoes [57]cloth/textile
59Other textilesCloth: Other [59]cloth/textile
60BagsPaper: Bags [60]paper/cardboard
61CardboardPaper: Cardboard [61]paper/cardboard
118Cartons/Tetrapack MilkPaper: Purepak [118]paper/cardboard
62Cartons/Tetrapack (others)Paper: Tetrapak [62]paper/cardboard
63Cigarette packetsPaper: Cig_packets [63]paper/cardboard
64Cigarette buttsPaper: Cig_stubs [64]paper/cardboard
65CupsPaper: Cups [65]paper/cardboard
66Newspapers & magazinesPaper: Newspapers [66]paper/cardboard
67Other paper itemsPaper: Other [67]paper/cardboard
68CorksWood: Corks [68]wood
69PalletsWood: Pallets [69]wood
70CratesWood: Crates [70]wood
71Crab/lobster potsWood: Lobsterpots [71]woodFishing gear
119Fish boxesWood: Fish_boxes [119]woodFishing gear
72Ice lolly sticks/chip forksWood: Lolly [72]wood
73Paint brushesWood: Brushes [73]wood
74Other wood < 50 cmWood: Other_small [74]wood
75Other wood > 50 cmWood: Other_large [75]wood
76Aerosol/Spray cansMetal: Aerosol [76]metal
77Bottle capsMetal: Caps [77]metal
78Drink cansMetal: Drink [78]metal
120Disposable BBQ'sMetal: Bbqs [120]metal
79Electric appliancesMetal: Electrical [79]metal
80Fishing weightsMetal: Fishing [80]metalFishing gear
81Foil wrappersMetal: Foil [81]metal
82Food cansMetal: Food [82]metal
83Industrial scrapMetal: Scrap [83]metal
84Oil drumsMetal: Oil [84]metal
86Paint tinsMetal: Paint_tins [86]metal
87Lobster/crab potsMetal: Lobsterpots [87]metalFishing gear
88Wire, wire mesh, barbed wireMetal: Wire [88]metal
89Other metal pieces < 50 cmMetal: Other_small [89]metal
90Other metal pieces > 50 cmMetal: Other_large [90]metal
91BottlesGlass: Bottles [91]glass
92Light bulbs/tubesGlass: Bulbs [92]glass
93Other glass itemsGlass: Other [93]glass
94Construction material e.g. tilesPottery: Construction [94]ceramic/pottery
95Octopus potsPottery: Octopus_pots [95]ceramic/potteryFishing gear
96Other ceramic/pottery itemsPottery: Other [96]ceramic/pottery
97CondomsSan: Condoms [97]sanitarySUP
98Cotton bud sticksSan: Buds [98]sanitarySUP
99Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing stripsSan: Towels [99]sanitarySUP
100Tampons and tampon applicatorsSan: Tampons [100]sanitarySUP
101Toilet freshenersSan: Toilet [101]sanitary
102Other sanitary itemsSan: Other [102]sanitarySUP
103Containers/tubesMed: Containers [103]medical
104SyringesMed: Syringes [104]medical
105Other medical items (swabs, bandaging etc.)Med: Other [105]medical
121Bagged dog pooFaeces: In_bags [121]faeces

Paraffin and other chemicals, which although included in the litter database, are recorded using a different method than for litter items, are not analysed here.
During each survey for a given survey site the number of individual pieces of litter is recorded for each litter type. The survey forms allow for the registration of identifiable items, unknown items and litter fragments in different size categories. Litter items which do not fit into a definite litter type category, are registered under the litter types ‘other’ for the given material or use category. A short description of the litter types is included on the survey form. Multilingual photo guides are available to assist surveyors with the identification and categorisation of litter items. All litter items are normally removed from the beach during the survey.

The location and physical characteristics of survey sites are influent parameters in terms of litter deposition/ retention patterns as well as potential sources; for this reason the characteristics of a number of reference beaches are recorded in detail. This information includes the proximity of possible sources of marine litter to the beach, as well as other factors that could help explain the amount, type, and composition of marine litter found. This information is stored in the OSPAR Beach Litter Database.

The software package litteR was used to analyse abundance, top items and trends in the results of the OSPAR beach litter surveys. litteR calculates mean and median values for abundance at the individual survey site level. Abundances were calculated for total abundance, which includes all litter types on the OSPAR list i.e. also plastic fragments, abundance of material categories, Single-Use-Plastic items, fishing gear and individual litter types.

To provide abundance values for groups of survey sites, the mean of the mean abundance values was calculated. R (Wilcoxon-Test) was used to test the significance of differences between sub-regional abundances.

Results

Assessment of abundance and composition for the six year assessment period spring 2012- winter 2017/18

The mean[1] number of litter items per survey (100m of coastline) was 966. The mean number of plastic and polystyrene items was 835/survey (100m). Approximately 90% of litter items recorded on OSPAR beach litter survey sites are made of artificial polymers (Figure 2). All other material categories each made up only 2% or less of the total amount of litter recorded on the survey sites (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Composition of litter recorded on OSPAR beach litter survey sites April 2012 – January 2018

(cotton-bud-sticks and cigarette butts are regarded as plastic) (Note: an unknown number of other items in the categories cloth/textile, rubber, sanitary and medical are also made of artificial polymers)

Mean abundance for total abundance, Single Use Plastics, fishing gear and a selection of litter types are presented in Figures 3-11. Due to high variability in abundance between sites the differences between regions are not always significant. The significant differences in the abundance of litter items for a selection of litter categories and types are presented in Table 3 (Note: The wider Atlantic region only includes one survey site with a total of eight surveys). Abundance of litter on survey sites in Arctic Waters is generally lower than on sites in the other OSPAR regions. The abundance of plastic and polystyrene items and fishing gear is higher on northern North Sea survey sites than on sites in the Celtic Seas. The abundance of cigarette butts is higher on sites in the Bay of Biscay and on the Iberian Coast than on North Sea and Celtic Seas sites!

Figure 3: Regional differences in mean total abundance of litter on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 4: Regional differences in mean abundance of plastic/polystyrene on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 5: Regional differences in mean abundance of Single Use Plastics (SUPs) and fishing gear on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 6: Regional differences in mean abundance of cotton-bud-sticks on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 8: Regional differences in mean abundance of crisp and sweet packets on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 10: Regional differences in mean abundance of plastic drinks bottles and containers on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 7: Regional differences in mean abundance of cigarette butts on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 9: Regional differences in mean abundance of caps and lids on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Figure 11: Regional differences in mean abundance of rubber balloons on OSPAR survey sites in the period April 2012 – January 2018

Table 3 Significant differences in the abundance of litter items for different litter categories and types (Note: The wider Atlantic region only includes one survey site with a total of eight surveys)
Litter categorySignificant differences in abundance
Total abundancelower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other OSPAR sub-regions except Wider Atlantic
Total abundancehigher on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the Celtic Seas
plastic & polystyrenelower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other OSPAR sub-regions except Wider Atlantic
plastic & polystyrenehigher on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the Celtic Seas
Single-Use-Plasticlower on sites in the Arctic Seas than in all other sub-regions except Wider Atlantic
Fishing gearhigher on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the Celtic Seas
Cotton-bud-stickslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other OSPAR sub-regions except Wider Atlantic
Cotton-bud-stickslower on sites in the southern North Sea than on sites in the region Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast and the Celtic Seas coasts
Cigarette-buttslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other sub-regions
Cigarette-buttshigher on sites in the Bay of Biscay and on the Iberian Coast than on North Sea and Celtic Seas sites
Crisp-sweet-packetslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other regions except Wider Atlantic
plastic caps and lidslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other regions except Wider Atlantic
plastic-drinks-bottleslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other regions except Wider Atlantic
Rubber balloonshigher on North Sea sites than on sites in the Bay of Biscay and on the Iberian Coast
Rubber balloonshigher on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the southern North Sea and Celtic Seas
Rubber balloonslower on Arctic Seas sites than on sites in all other regions except Wider Atlantic
Plastic fragments 2.5-50cmhigher on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the regions Bay of Biscay & Iberian Coast and Celtic Seas.
Plastic fragments 2.5-50cmhigher in the North Sea than in Arctic Waters

There are significantly more cigarette butts, Single Use Plastics and crisp/sweet packaging on survey sites on tourist beaches and significantly more sanitary items on survey sites near (≤10km) to wastewater inflow.

The most widespread top-litter types (on > 50% of sites) are Plastic-polystyrene-fragments, string-cord (diameter <1cm), caps-lids and crisp-sweet-packets. Other widespread top-litter types (on 25-50% of sites) are drinks bottles & containers, rope (diameter >1cm),food-containers, other-wood <50cm, cotton-bud-sticks and nets-pieces-of-net <50cm. Cotton-bud-sticks were among the top litter items on 22%, rubber balloons on 15% and small and large plastic bags each on 19% of survey sites (see also Table 4). Small and medium-sized plastic fragments as well as caps and lids were widespread top-litter types on survey sites in all regions, whereas cotton-bud-sticks are less widespread on sites in Arctic Waters (only on 6% of sites) and the southern North Sea (9%) and drinks bottles & containers as well as food containers are less widespread on Arctic Waters sites (each 6% of survey sites).

Table 4: Most widespread top litter items (number of survey sites with a given litter type as one of the most frequent items)
OSPARIDLitter typenumber of survey sites% of survey sites
46Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm10988
117Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm10081
32String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)9677
15Caps/lids8569
19Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks6653
4Drinks bottles & containers4637
31Rope (diameter more than 1cm)4133
6Food incl. fast food containers3831
98Cotton bud sticks3730
48Other plastic/polystyrene items3327
115Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm3226
45Foam sponge2722
64Cigarette butts2722
74Other wood < 50 cm2722
3Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bags2419
2Bags (shopping)2319
33Tangled nets/cord2319
22Cutlery/trays/straws2218
78Drink cans2218
93Other glass items2016
49Balloons1815
91Bottles1815
35Fishing line (angling)1714
40Industrial packaging, plastic sheeting1613

Assessment of trends December 2009– January 2018 (tables 7-10)

Significant reductions in total abundance of litter items occurred on 23% of survey sites. The most reductions were recorded for the category plastic and polystyrene. Significant increases in the total number of litter items were recorded for 10% of the survey sites (see Table 5).

[1] Mean of the means for individual survey sites

The number of survey sites, as well as the number of surveys, has increased since the start of the monitoring programme in 2001 (Figure a). Despite an overall increase in the number of survey sites, the specific sites used and the number of surveys undertaken per year at those sites, have varied. Nevertheless 68% of the survey sites supplied data for at least four of the six years covered for the calculation of abundance and composition.

Threshold values for the abundance of litter items on OSPAR beach litter survey sites are presently being developed by the Technical Group Marine Litter of the European Union. The lack of threshold values for litter abundance means that the results on total abundance, abundance of Single-Use-Plastics, Fishing Gear, material categories or individual litter types cannot be evaluated at present. However, trends in the abundance of litter on the OSPAR survey sites are used to give an indication of the present situation in comparison to the OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017.

Figure a Number of surveys carried out per year in OSPAR-regions (2001-2017)

Assessment of abundance and composition 2012-2017

Overall abundance of litter

Abundance of litter items and their composition have been calculated using data for the period April 2012 to January 2018. This includes OSPAR beach litter data for a six year assessment period from the spring survey in 2012 to the winter survey in 2017/18.
The present distribution of survey sites and the mean total abundance of litter items per 100m at these sites are presented in Figure b and the availability of survey data is presented in Table a.

Figure a: Mean Total Abundance of Beach Litter Items

The mean[1] number of litter items per survey (100m of coastline) was 966. The mean number items in the plastic/polystyrene material category was 835/survey (100m).

A number of litter items in the material categories rubber and cloth/textile as well as in the use categories sanitary and medical are made of artificial polymer material. Examples of litter items, which are a major component of beach litter on OSPAR survey sites, are cotton-bud-sticks, which are included in the sanitary category, despite being mainly made of plastic, and cigarette butts, which are included in the category paper & cardboard, although they are made of synthetic fibers. This is done to link the litter types to their sources, with the ultimate aim of enabling the development of suitable litter reduction measures. When just these two litter types are considered to belong to the plastic/polystyrene material category, then about 90% of litter items recorded on OSPAR beach litter survey sites are made of artificial polymers and all other material categories each make up only 2% or less of the total amount of litter recorded on the survey sites (Figure 2).

Differences in abundance and composition of litter between regions

Mean abundance for total abundance, Single Use Plastics, fishing gear and a selection of litter types are presented in Figures 3-10. Due to high variability in abundance between sites the differences between regions are not always significant. Significant differences in the abundance of litter items for a selection of different litter categories and types are presented in Table 3 (Note: The Wider Atlantic region only includes one survey site with a total of eight surveys in two consecutive years).

The mean total abundance of litter items/survey varies greatly between OSPAR regions (Figure 3), especially between the northern North Sea and all other regions, the differences are only significant for Arctic survey sites, which have less litter than survey sites in all other regions, and between survey sites in the northern North Sea, which have a higher total abundance than those on the coast of the Celtic Sea. The mean number of plastic & polystyrene items/survey is also significantly higher in the northern North Sea than in the Celtic Seas (Figure 4). The number of Single Use Plastic items (Figure 5) is significantly lower on sites in the Arctic Seas than in all other sub-regions (Table 3).

In general the abundance of litter generally considered to be sewage (cotton-bud-sticks) (Figure 6) or tourist related (cigarette butts (Figure 7), crisp & sweet packaging (Figure 8)) is less abundant on Arctic Seas survey sites than on sites in all other regions. This is also the case for the litter types caps & lids (Figure 9) and plastic drinks bottles & containers (Figure 10). The sites on the southern North Sea coasts have significantly less cotton-bud-sticks than the sites in the northern North sea and Celtic Seas as well as the sites in the region Bay of Biscay & Iberian Coast. Cigarette butts occur in high numbers (>25/100m) on North Sea sites in the British Isles, on French sites in the southern North Sea and on Portuguese, French and Spanish sites in the region Bay of Biscay and the Iberian coast. Rubber balloons, which make up a large proportion of the items recorded under the category rubber, are significantly more abundant on North Sea sites than on sites in the region Bay of Biscay & Iberian coast and significantly more abundant on northern North Sea sites than on sites in the southern North Sea and Celtic Seas (Figure 11). Especially high abundances of rubber balloons are recorded on the Scandinavian sites in the northern North Sea.

The most widespread top-litter types (on > 50% of sites) are Plastic-polystyrene-fragments, string-cord (diameter <1cm), caps-lidsand crisp & sweet packaging. Other widespread top-litter types (on 25-50% of sites) are plastic drinks bottles & containers, rope (diameter >1cm), food-containers, other-wood <50cm, cotton-bud-sticks and nets-pieces-of-net <50cm. Cotton-bud-sticks were among the top litter items on 22%, rubber balloons on 15% and small and large plastic bags each on 19%  of survey sites (see also Table 4). Small and medium-sized plastic fragments as well as caps and lids were widespread top-litter types on survey sites in all regions, whereas cotton-bud-sticks are less widespread on sites in Arctic Waters (only on 6% of sites) and the southern North Sea (9%) and drinks bottles & containers as well as food containers are less widespread on Arctic Waters sites (each 6% of survey sites).

The most widespread top-litter types for the OSPAR regions are presented in Table c. Three litter types, the two plastic and polystyrene fragments categories less than 50cm in size, and plastic string less than 1cm in diameter, are under the top items found on 50% or more of all survey sites in all regions. Caps & lids are under the top items on 50% or more of sites in all regions except Arctic Waters, where they are top items on 28% of sites. Cotton-bud-sticks are widespread top items on at least 40% of sites in the Greater north Sea north, the Celtic Seas and the Bay of Biscay/Iberian Coast regions, whereas cigarette butts are only widespread top items in the Bay of Biscay/Iberian coast region.

Table c : Most widespread top litter items for OSPAR regions (% of survey sites with a given litter type as one of its most frequent items)
1. Arctic Waters% of survey sites2. Greater North Sea North% of survey sites2. Greater North Sea South% of survey sites3. Celtic Seas% of survey sites4. Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast% of survey sites
Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm72Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm93Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm100Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm96Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm87
Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm56String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)80String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)85Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks92String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)83
String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)50Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm80Caps/lids79Plastic/polystyrene pieces 2.5 cm > < 50cm85Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm83
Caps/lids28Caps/lids60Plastic/polystyrene pieces 0 - 2.5 cm79Caps/lids81Caps/lids77
Other wood < 50 cm22Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks47Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks59String and cord (diameter leass than 1cm)81Cigarette butts57
Rope (diameter more than 1cm)17Cotton bud sticks40Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm59Rope (diameter more than 1cm)69Crisp/sweet packets and lolly sticks50
Shotgun cartridges17Drinks bottles & containers33Food incl. fast food containers38Drinks bottles & containers65Other plastic/polystyrene items47
Tangled nets/cord11Rope (diameter more than 1cm)27Foam sponge38Cotton bud sticks54Drinks bottles & containers43
Floats/Buoys11Balloons27Tangled nets/cord35Food incl. fast food containers50Cotton bud sticks43
Strapping bands11Food incl. fast food containers20Other plastic/polystyrene items32Bags (shopping)42Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bags40
Other plastic/polystyrene items11Cutlery/trays/straws20Balloons32Drink cans29Food incl. fast food containers27
Other wood > 50 cm11Tangled nets/cord20Drinks bottles & containers29Fishing line (angling)35Other wood < 50 cm27
Other glass items11Industrial packaging, plastic sheeting20Industrial packaging, plastic sheeting29Other glass items31Rope (diameter more than 1cm)23
Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm11Foam sponge20Rope (diameter more than 1cm)26Cutlery/trays/straws27Drink cans23
Nets and pieces of net > 50 cm11Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm20Other wood < 50 cm26Foam sponge27Bags (shopping)20
Drinks bottles & containers6Bags (shopping)13Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bags21Bottles27Plastic Cups17
Food incl. fast food containers6Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bags13Cutlery/trays/straws21Clothing19Cutlery/trays/straws17
Jerry cans (square plastic containers with handle)6Strapping bands13Bottles18Other wood < 50 cm19Tangled nets/cord17
Plastic Cups6Shotgun cartridges13Fishing line (angling)15Other metal pieces < 50 cm19Bottles17
Plastic Fish boxes6Other plastic/polystyrene items13Cigarette butts15Other plastic/polystyrene items15Foam sponge13
Other rubber pieces6Other textiles13Bags (shopping)12Gloves (industrial/professional rubber gloves)15Other paper items13
Construction material e.g. tiles6Cigarette butts13Other bottles & containers12Small plastic bags, e.g., freezer bags12Other glass items13
Cotton bud sticks6Other glass items13Strapping bands12Toys & party poppers12Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm13
Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing strips6Cleaner bottles & containers7Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cm12Shotgun cartridges12Industrial packaging, plastic sheeting10
Other sanitary items6Fishing line (angling)7Drink cans12Other rubber pieces12Foil wrappers10
Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cm7Other glass items12Other textiles12Construction material e.g. tiles10
Other rubber pieces7Oyster nets9Cigarette butts12Cleaner bottles & containers7
Clothing7Other rubber pieces9Wire, wire mesh, barbed wire12Fishing line (angling)7
Other wood < 50 cm7Cotton bud sticks9Construction material e.g. tiles12Floats/Buoys7
Other wood > 50 cm7Nets and pieces of net > 50 cm9Other ceramic/pottery items12Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cm7
Drink cans7Plastic Cups6Other sanitary items12Clothing7
Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing strips7Floats/Buoys6Plastic bag ends12Cartons/Tetrapack (others)7
Other sanitary items7Shotgun cartridges6Nets and pieces of net < 50 cm12Other sanitary items7
Other medical items (swabs, bandaging etc.)7Other textiles6Balloons8Cartons/Tetrapack Milk8
Other paper items6Industrial scrap84/6-pack yokes3
Ice lolly sticks/chip forks6Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing strips8Cosmetics bottles & containers3
Bottle caps6Other medical items (swabs, bandaging etc.)8Jerry cans (square plastic containers with handle)3
Construction material e.g. tiles6Fertiliser/animal feed bags4Other bottles & containers3
Other sanitary items6Tangled nets/cord4Crates3
Plastic bag ends6Plastic/polystyrene pieces > 50 cm4Cigarette lighters3
Cleaner bottles & containers3Tyres and belts4Mesh vegetable bags3
Cosmetics bottles & containers3Bottle caps4Oyster nets3
Cigarette lighters3Tampons and tampon applicators4Light sticks (tubes with fluid)3
Cigarette packets3Buckets3
Paper Cups3Strapping bands3
Corks3Shoes/sandals3
Industrial scrap3Balloons3
Other metal pieces < 50 cm3Newspapers & magazines3
Other metal pieces > 50 cm3Ice lolly sticks/chip forks3
Other ceramic/pottery items3Other wood > 50 cm3
Other medical items (swabs, bandaging etc.)3Aerosol/Spray cans3
Bottle caps3
Food cans3
Industrial scrap3
Other metal pieces < 50 cm3
Other ceramic/pottery items3
Sanitary towels/panty liners/backing strips3
Plastic bag ends3
Nets and pieces of net > 50 cm3

There are significantly more cigarette butts, Single Use Plastics and crisp/sweet packaging on survey sites on tourist beaches and significantly more sanitary items on survey sites near (≤10km) to wastewater inflow. Significant differences in the abundance of fragments in relation to the nearness (≤10km) of river inflow or significant differences in the abundance of strapping bands, fishing gear, injection gun cartridges in relation to nearness (≤10km) of shipping activities could not be detected. However, the information in the OSPAR database on the nearness of rivers and shipping to survey sites is at present only limited to a few survey sites.

Assessment of trends

Trends in abundance of litter items for litter types, groups of litter types and material categories have been calculated using data for the period December 2009– January 2018. This includes the results from 33 survey periods from the winter survey period 2009/2010 to the winter survey period 2017/18.

Significant trends in total abundance of litter items could be detected for a third (n=42) of all survey sites. Significant reductions in total abundance of litter items occurred on 23% of survey sites, ranging from 16% of sites in the Bay of Biscay & Iberian coast region to 41% of sites in the Celtic Seas. Significant increases in the total abundance of litter items were recorded for 9% of the survey sites, ranging from 3% in the southern North Sea to 19% in the Bay of Biscay & Iberian coast region.

Significant trends in the number of of litter items for material categories could be detected for 11% (n=14) (medical, ceramic/pottery) to 31% (n=40) (plastic/polystyrene) of all survey sites. The majority of significant trends in material/use categories and groups of litter types (Single-Use-Plastics, fishing gear) on survey sites are decreasing ones.  This is also the case at an OSPAR regional level, with the exception of the Bay of Biscay & Iberian coast, where  sites with increasing trends for total abundance (n=6), sanitary (n=6) (mainly cotton-bud-sticks), cloth/textiles (n=5) and paper/cardboard (n=4) (mainly cigarette butts) are more common.

The most reductions in abundance of litter items were recorded for the plastic/polystyrene category, with declines in litter abundance recorded on 27 (21%) of the survey sites in the OSPAR area.

The regional overviews of significant trends in total abundance and the OSPAR material/use categories are presented in Tables 5, d, e and f. The significant trends at a survey site level for total abundance are presented in Table 5. The significant trends at a survey site level for Single-Use-Plastics and Fishing Gear are presented in Tables d and e. Examples of significant trends are presented in the Figures b-p.

Figures b - p Trend graphs for a selection of beaches with significant trends in total abundance (TA) and in Single Use Plastics

Figure b

Figure e

Figure h

Figure k

Figure n

Figure c

Figure f

Figure i

Figure l

Figure o

Figure d

Figure g

Figure j

Figure m

Figure p

Magnitude of reductions in the number of litter items/100m

The average annual reduction in total abundance in the period December 2009 – January 2018 on sites with significant trends (n=30) was 85 litter items/100m. The average increase in abundance on sites with significant trends (n=12) was 25 litter items/100m. However, three survey sites with less than ten surveys had very high reductions in litter items. If these sites are removed from the calculation the average annual reduction in total abundance in the period December 2009 – January 2018 on sites with significant trends (n=27) was 16 litter items/100m.

Conclusion

Although the abundance of litter items on OSPAR survey sites remains high there is some indication that, in general, the situation is improving. Fishing activities remain one of the main sources of litter and Single-Use-Plastic items are also amongst the top litter types recorded on the survey sites. Regional differences in the abundance and composition of litter types indicate that the sources of marine litter pollution differ between regions. Composition and abundance of litter items on survey sites in the Arctic Waters region probably reflect the low human population there, but relatively high fishing intensity in Arctic waters. Single-Use-Plastic items are less abundant on Arctic Waters sites than on sites in other regions. The regional differences in the abundance of cotton-bud-sticks indicate that input of litter via sewage outlets remains an important source in some regions. Cigarette butts remain a problem on sites in the British Isles and on the Iberian coast, but also on some French beaches in the Bay of Biscay and southern North Sea. High abundances of rubber balloons are recorded on the Scandinavian sites in the northern North Sea, which probably reflect wind and water drift from the British Isles and northwest Europe.

Although the abundance of litter items on OSPAR survey sites remains high there are some survey sites with significant reductions in litter abundance in the period winter 2009/10- winter 2017/18. Although the majority of significant trends in the amount of litter items detected on survey sites in the OSPAR region are reductions, a number of significant increasing trends in material/use categories and groups of litter types were also detected.

As in the IA 2017, Fishing activities are still one of the main sources of litter in the OSPAR region and Single-Use-Plastic items are amongst the top litter types recorded on the OSPAR survey sites.

Regional differences in the abundance and composition of litter types indicate that the sources of marine litter pollution differ between sub-regions. Composition and abundance of litter items on survey sites in the Artic Seas sub-region probably reflect the low human population, but relatively high fishing intensity in Arctic waters. Single-Use-Plastic items, in many cases related to human use of the coastline for recreation, are less abundant on Arctic Seas sites than on other sub-regions. The higher abundance of cotton-bud-sticks on survey sites near to wastewater outlets indicates that the regional differences in the abundance of are related to the input of litter via this source. Significantly lower numbers on the survey sites in the southern North Sea than on sites in the south and west of the OSPAR area indicate priority areas for measures.

Cigarette butts remain a problem on North Sea sites in the British Isles, on French sites in the southern North Sea and on Portuguese, French and Spanish sites in the region Bay of Biscay and the Iberian coast. The significantly higher abundances of this litter type on beaches with tourism indicate where appropriate measures to combat littering from smoking-related activity are necessary. High abundances of rubber balloons are recorded on the Scandinavian survey sites in the northern North Sea, which probably reflect wind and water drift from the British Isles and northwest Europe.

Due to a general increase in awareness of the marine litter situation beach clean-ups have become common events and the general public regularly removes litter items from beaches. These activities are considered to be welcome measures according to the OSPAR Regional Action Plan (RAP). The removal of litter from beaches, where survey sites are situated, and especially direct removal of litter from the survey sites themselves, will lead to recorded reductions in litter abundance during OSPAR beach litter surveys. On beaches with predominately land-based sources, removal of litter does not necessarily have to be considered a problem for beach litter monitoring, because although beach cleaning does not target the source of the litter, it is removing litter that has been placed directly on the beach and prevents it entering the marine environment. The abundance of litter on the survey site will decrease in accordance with a RAP measure. On beaches with sea-based sources, removal will complicate the assessment of the results of beach litter surveys. With the exception of beaches on uninhabited islands or beaches, where public access can be restricted, the results of the beach litter surveys are going to be affected by beach cleaning activities. It will be increasingly difficult to measure the effect of measures against sea-based pollution. An indication that the measured trends in litter abundance in the period December 2009 to January 2018 are due to reduced input and not cleaning activities are provided by two beaches on the German North Sea coast. One survey site is situated on the uninhabited island of Scharhörn, a wardened island not used by the general public, and the other on a beach on the island of Sylt, which is used by the general public for recreation and where it is known that litter is, at least sporadically, removed by beach-users. Both beaches have similar composition of mainly sea-based litter. Significant reductions in litter abundance are recorded for both beaches, which gives room for hope that the beach litter monitoring programme is in fact measuring real reductions in litter input.

It is also likely that the general interest for marine litter will ebb in the near future – as often happens with pollution themes. This could lead to measured increases of litter on beaches due to fewer beach cleaning actions. However, measures and legal instruments have already been implemented to reduce litter input and many more are planned for the future.

The guidelines for OSPAR beach litter monitoring specify that the survey sites preferably be free from beach cleaning activities. Half of the beaches where the survey sites are situated that were used in this analysis are in fact subject to beach cleaning at some level. This might be the reason behind at least some of the reductions in litter abundance. In Netherlands, in an attempt to avoid this problem and especially for the more touristic beaches of Bergen and Noordwijk, it is checked if a beach cleanup has been done in the two weeks prior to the survey.

Due to the limited data available for the OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017 the comparison of its results with this assessment is limited. For example the number of surveys available for the analysis of abundance and composition in the southern North Sea region for the two years 2014 and 2015 has doubled due to additional data added after the 2017 assessment was made. A comparison of the values for the total abundance of litter items on the survey sites from the period 2014 to 2015, which were used for the IA 2017, with the total abundance for the period 2016 to 2018, for the same sites, showed an average reduction in of about 250 items/100m, however, the difference was not significant.
Nonetheless, significant reductions in the abundance of litter items on OSPAR survey sites could not be detected in the period 2009-2016, which was assessed in the OSPAR IA 2017, but could be detected on about a fifth (total plastics) to a quarter (total abundance ) of survey sites in the period 2009-2017. The general composition of litter recorded on the survey sites, the top litter types recorded and the regional differences in the abundance of the most abundant litter types, however, has remained the same.

Knowledge Gaps

More comprehensive information on the topography, geography, human use and proximity to point sources of litter need to be made available for all the survey sites in a useable form. The effects of weather phenomenon such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) should be analysed to assess its influence of trend in on the beach litter data.

The survey sites which supplied the data used in the analysis of beach litter for the OSPAR regions are situated on beaches, which are very variable in their topography, geography, proximity to point sources and human use, all of which can influence the amount of litter deposited on the beach. Although the beaches surveyed are generally sandy, several other beach types are included in the OSPAR Beach Litter Monitoring Programme. These include rocky, boulder and shingle beaches as well as beaches with different levels of pebble, rock and shingle as well as vegetation coverage. Physical characteristics of the survey site influence deposition and retention levels of litter, for example sandy bays on rocky coasts have the potential to accumulate and retain more litter than long open sandy beaches. Furthermore, water currents, weather conditions and prevailing wind conditions, have a significant influence on deposition and retention of litter and thus litter abundance. OSPAR Beach Litter monitoring assesses the litter deposited on the survey sites from diverse sea-based and land-based sources. The importance of the different sources can vary between OSPAR sub-regions, but also between survey sites within a sub-region, depending on their location. Urban beaches, for example, tend to have land-based sources of litter and rural beaches tend to have sea-based sources. Within OSPAR there is no classification between urban and rural beaches. However we do have some information on the distance to the nearest town, river, shipping route and wastewater outlet as well as information on whether the beach is used for tourists or not (simple yes/no). This information was used to analyse the data for survey sites used by tourists and those not used by tourists, those near to rivers, shipping routes and wastewater outlets and those further away. Significant differences in the abundance of fragments in relation to the nearness of river inflow and significant differences in the abundance of strapping bands, fishing gear and injection-gun cartridges in relation to nearness of shipping could not be detected. However this was certainly due to the fact that there is generally only information available in the database for a small selection of survey sites. Significantly more cigarette butts, SUPs and crisp/sweet packaging could be detected on tourist beaches and significantly more sanitary items on beaches near (10km) to wastewater inflows because this information was available and usable for a larger sample of survey sites. The distribution of different types of beaches e.g. urban and rural could not be fully taken into consideration when comparing the litter abundance, composition and trends in this assessment. Their distribution across regions might affect the results if it is much skewed. Differences in the topography, geography of the beaches was not considered at all in this analysis and needs to be considered in future assessments. A further related aspect that needs to be considered in future assessments is the effect of changes in the number and distribution of survey sites on the data summarised for the OSPAR area and the OSPAR regions. Although in this analysis the greater majority of survey sites were assessed constantly throughout the six year assessment period surveys on some sites were discontinued after the first couple of years and some sites were added toward the end of the period. The analysis of trends on a survey site basis, however, helps to combat this problem.

In the future the effects of weather phenomenon, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), should be analysed to assess their influence on abundance and trends in the beach litter data set.

 

Schulz, M., van Loon, W., Fleet, D. M., Baggelaar, P. and van der Meulen, E. (2017) OSPAR standard method and software for statistical analysis of beach litter data. Mar Pollut Bull, 122, 1-2, pp. 166-175

Schulz, M., Walvoort, D. J. J., Barry, J., Fleet, D. M. and van Loon, Willem M. G. M. (2019) Baseline and power analyses for the assessment of beach litter reductions in the European OSPAR region. Environ Pollut. 248, pp. 555-564

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