Anthropogenic litter in marine waters and coastlines of Arctic Canada and West Greenland

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Aug 20;783:146971. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146971. Epub 2021 Apr 7.


Despite much interest and research into marine litter (including plastic debris) on beaches globally, relatively little is known about the density and distribution of this pollutant in Arctic environments, particularly Arctic Canada and West Greenland. We used two sources of data, observations of floating litter from vessels at sea, and quadrat surveys of litter on low slope beaches, to establish the first measures of anthropogenic litter densities in this region. Most litter observed (73%) was plastic, predominantly fragments, threads and sheets, with a mean density of 1.0 ± 1.7 (SD) items·m-2 along sandy/gravel beaches (median 1), and items were observed on the ocean surface as far as 78°N. Litter densities were significantly greater for sites within 5 km of communities, and much of the litter near remote communities was clearly from local sources. However, contrary to our predictions, we did not find that litter densities decreased with increasing latitude. Collectively, our results confirm that this global pollutant is distributed around much of this portion of the Arctic, and that better waste management strategies in a number of sectors may help reduce its occurrence in this remote region.

Keywords: Anthropogenic; Beach; Cruise ship; Debris; Garbage; Marine litter; Plastic pollution.