Changing distribution of marine litter

17 April 2018

Article: 52/1510

Research conducted by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) between 1992-2017 has revealed changes in the composition of marine plastic litter, finding a decrease in the amount of plastic bags found on the UK’s seabed and suggesting that behavioural and legislative changes may be able to tackle the marine litter challenge.

Despite the reduction in the number of plastic bags recorded in an analysis of scientific surveys, the overall amount of litter has been maintained by an increasing amount of other plastic items, including fishing debris.

Widespread distribution of litter items were found on the seabed of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea. High variation in the abundance of litter items, ranging from zero to 1835 pieces km−2 of seafloor, was observed.

Plastic items such as bags, bottles and fishing related debris were commonly observed across all areas. Over the entire 25-year period, 63% of the 2,461 trawls contained at least one plastic litter item.

Marine litter is a global challenge, with increasing quantities documented in recent decades. The distribution and abundance of marine litter on the seafloor off the UK’s coasts were quantified during 39 independent scientific surveys conducted between 1992 and 2017.