Marine plastic litter is a global problem. For the Arctic, which is far from the industrialized and highly populated areas, marine plastic litter is an ongoing and growing problem. The global plastic production reached 322 million tons in 2015, and is growing with ~4% per year. It is therefore likely that the contamination of the Arctic area with plastic litter will increase in the future. Plastic has been observed in all abiotic environments within the European Arctic. The concentration of plastics are comparable or even higher than in more urban and populated areas. There are also indications that the amount of plastic within the European Arctic is increasing. Human settlements within the Arctic also contribute to plastic pollution.
Most studies investigating plastic in Arctic species, have found plastic. OSPAR (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) has set an Ecological Quality Objective, that less than 10 % of the monitored fulmar population should not have more than 0.1 gram plastic in their stomachs. In Svalbard, 22.5 % of fulmars have ≥ 0.1 g plastic in their stomachs. This is comparable to observations in Iceland (28%), but lower than other southern locations, such as the North Sea, where in 2007-2011 62% of the fulmar population had ≥ 0.1 g. However, the occurrence of plastic in fulmar stomachs is higher in Svalbard (87.5%) than Iceland (79.3%). In addition, floating plastic litter and plastic objects act as long-distance transport devices for invasive species to the Arctic.
There is a pressing need to address the many gaps in our knowledge of plastic in the Arctic environment and in the Arctic species. The high levels of micro- and small micro plastic found in sea ice and sediments highlight the importance of management action to reduce marine litter globally. We need to better understand how plastic impact our Arctic environment and the species living here.