The “Watches” are the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) key contributions to Eye on Earth. They aim to collect and compile environmental data from diverse sources into relevant information. Marine LitterWatch, which is due to be launched later this year following a pilot beginning in May, is the latest such initiative. Its main aim is to use citizen science to gather monitoring data on beach and coastal marine litter across Europe and help in the EU’s drive to improve the environmental status of the marine environment.
Marine litter is recognised as a growing emergent pressure on the coastal and marine environment. It has trans-boundary impacts on wildlife and habitats as well as on human activities and health.
The EU is part of an international commitment, which came about following the Rio +20 conference, to reduce marine litter significantly by 2025. One of its main mechanisms to contribute to this commitment is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, a piece of legislation that determines that EU member States will implement measures to achieve or maintain good environmental status of the marine environment by 2020. Marine litter is identified as one of the main threats to reaching this objective.
The EEA, in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, the Institute for Water of the Republic of Slovenia, the North Sea Foundation and the PERSEUS research project, has developed Marine LitterWatch to contribute to meet this challenge.
“Marine LitterWatch is a citizen science based app in Eye on Earth that aims to help fill data gaps in beach litter monitoring required by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive,” said Constança Belchior, project manager for marine and maritime data and analysis at the EEA.
“It will also explore the benefits of involving citizen scientists in the collection and monitoring of marine litter,” added Malene Bruun, responsible for citizen science in the development of Eye on Earth at the EEA. “This will hopefully foster community building and help to bring about behavioural change in civil society by supporting a collective approach to marine litter management involving government bodies, industry and citizens.”
The Marine LitterWatch app, which will initially be available for Android devices, applies a two-tier approach: monitoring to support official processes and voluntary clean-ups.
European Member States are currently in the process of defining where official monitoring should take place and what the so called reference beaches should be. These beaches will be monitored four times per year to better understand and assess the European marine litter landscape. Some of these beaches however are already known and have been previously monitored with the support of volunteer communities. Voluntary clean-ups serve to raise awareness and encourage behavioural change, and occur independently of the type of beach.
The app uses a master list of marine litter items commonly found on Europe’s beaches, for example, various plastic articles, cigarette butts, bottles, etc. Data on the litter found is submitted through the app to the EEA hosted Marine LitterWatch database and to existing specified national databases. Data can be visualised through the Eye on Earth website and embedded in other web pages or applications. Prior to the launch of the pilot in May, you can follow developments and get involved on Twitter using the hashtag #eoemlw.
“Our aim at this stage is to assess the extent to which citizen science can be used to support the Marine Strategy Framework Directive beach litter monitoring,” explained Belchior. “We hope we can prove that this concept works and that Marine LitterWatch reaches and brings together diverse communities beyond those that might otherwise be involved. We’d also like people to have some fun while cleaning up Europe’s beaches and to understand the size and importance of this issue.”
For more information, contact Malene Bruun or Constança Belchior.