The Icelandic Institute of Marine Research has has produced a new report that uncovers the extent of marine litter on the country's sea floor

The Icelandic Institute of Marine Research has has produced a new report that uncovers the extent of marine litter on the country’s sea floor. Photo: Naval Research Institute

The Icelandic Institute of Marine Research has estimated that the amount of marine litter on the country’s sea floor could be four times more than the coast of Norway.

A new report which is called: “Debris on the seabed off Iceland: Summary of registration of debris during mapping of habitats on the seabed 2004-2019“.

Until now, little has been known about the fate of litter in the sea off Iceland. However, it is common to see trash on the country’s beaches, and trash often comes up with fishing gear. A lot of plastic that ends up in the ocean floats around, but it is believed that most of the debris in the ocean sinks to the bottom of the ocean and can, among other things, affect the species composition and interactions of organisms on the ocean floor.

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Since 2004, various areas on the seabed have been mapped for the project Mapping habitats on the seabed. The project is intended to map different habitats on the seabed, list species and assess their conservation value.

Fishing areas in the south and west of the country and two areas in the north of the country have so far been created for the project. The project uses digital cameras on a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) or a three-legged steel frame towed behind the ship. During the processing of the footage, debris has inevitably been found and recorded.

The newly published report covers the distribution and amount of debris that has been found on the seabed near the country in this way.

The research found that a total of 307 items of litter were found in 15 areas, ranging from hooks to trawl nets. Fishing gear was the most common type of litter (94%) and most of it was fishing line (81%). General waste such as plastic bags, plastic film, aluminum cans, etc. was found less often (6%). If it is assumed that fishing lines, trawl nets, ropes and fishing nets are made of plastic, the total amount of plastic found is 92% of the total litter. Most modern fishing gear is made of strong plastics that take an extremely long time to break down. Therefore, the amount of debris on the ocean floor will only increase over time.

Until now, only a fraction of the seabed within Iceland’s exclusive economic zone has been photographed, but it is clear that the images give a valuable view of the situation on the seabed. However, it is clear that more areas on the seabed need to be imaged and better explored where debris can be found around the country. Efforts must also be made to limit the amount of trash that ends up in the ocean and to take care of sensitive habitats so that man-made destruction is not greater than it actually is. Until solutions are found to this huge problem of man-made litter, it will continue to accumulate in large quantities in the oceans if nothing changes.

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New research report uncovers extent of Icelandic marine litter

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