Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter

"Marine litter, also known as marine debris, has been defined as “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment”. Examples may include all types of plastic, including microplastics, machined wood, synthetic fiber, textiles, metal, glass, ceramics, rubber and other persistent artificial material."

Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic Iceland Norway Sweden Canada Finland Kingdom of Denmark USA AIA OSPARThe development of a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic (ML-RAP) builds upon the Phase I Project Desktop Study on Marine Litter including Micro-plastics in the Arctic (2019), which was based on best available science, indigenous knowledge, and other information at the time of completion. The development of the ML-RAP also represents one of the priorities of Iceland’s Arctic Council Chairmanship (2019-2021).

The overall objective of the ML-RAP is to support Arctic States’ efforts to reduce marine litter in the Arctic marine environment, prevent the potential negative impacts and mitigate the risks it may pose, and to improve cooperation on and awareness of this shared objective. It addresses both sea- and land-based activities, focusing on Arctic-specific marine litter sources and pathways, and will play an important role in demonstrating Arctic States’ stewardship efforts toward reducing the negative impacts of marine litter to the Arctic marine environment.

Development an Implementation Plan for the Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic (2021-2023)

After the approval of the ML-RAP, PAME is currently developing its Implementation Plan in close coordination and cooperation with other Arctic Council WGs and with overall guidance from the SAOs and Ministers. The plan will support coordination, collaboration, and reporting on marine litter-related activities across the Arctic Council WGs and Arctic States, including the integration of marine litter activities in multiple WG work plans. Co-leads will also engage with Indigenous and local communities and relevant stakeholders.

Main activities of the implementation is to:

  1. Develop an Annotated Outline: Co-leads will prepare an annotated outline of the ML-RAP Implementation Plan and share with the other Arctic Council WGs to seek their input and feedback;
  2. Develop a Roadmap for Implementation: Co-leads, in close collaboration with other Arctic Council WGs, will develop a Roadmap to guide implementation. The Roadmap may include an analysis of activities to date, the identification of gaps and needs, and criteria for an iterative priority-setting process, among other steps; and,
  3. Establish an Implementation and Reporting Process: The PAME WG, in close collaboration with other Arctic Council WGs, will develop an implementation and reporting process, including a status report every two years for the SAOs and Ministers. Such reporting will be a cross-cutting WG effort with the aim to convey the status of ML-RAP Strategic Actions using a simple template such as that used by the AMSP or AMSA. This report will also inform biennial WG work plans and include domestic activities as well as Arctic Council projects.

Leads: Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and United States

Sources of Marine Litter in the Arctic


Reducing Marine Litter Inputs from Fisheries and Aquaculture

Fisheries and aquaculture activities are sources of marine litter in the Arctic. The Desktop Study analysis of existing coastal and seafloor litter in some regions of the Arctic identified all types of fishing activities as a significant source of marine litter. While aquaculture activities’ contribution to marine litter in the Arctic is relatively small compared to fisheries, it has the potential, with growth, to contribute more significantly on a local scale in the future. Actions to reduce input from fisheries and aquaculture include those aimed at reduction of operational losses/net cuttings; extended recovery, reuse, and recycling of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG); and improvement of waste management onboard fishing vessels, at aquaculture installations, and at port reception facilities. The actions will take into consideration and contribute to existing guidelines, initiatives, and processes at the regional and global levels such as work under regional fisheries management organizations, the FAO, and the IMO.

Review and promote best practices for waste
prevention, management, onboard storage, and
disposal procedures for waste generated by fishing vessels and aquaculture installations in the Arctic that complement onshore waste management practices.
Support and promote gear marking, reporting, and
recovery of ALDFG, as outlined in the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear.
Identify most commonly lost or discarded fishing
gear in different areas of the Arctic, as well as
where opportunities may exist to develop procedures for ALDFG prevention and reduction within
the region.
Identify hot spot areas of ALDFG in the Arctic
through mapping of known snagging sites or
unsanctioned dumping grounds, in collaboration
with relevant stakeholders.
Conduct a risk assessment to identify where accumulations of ALDFG pose a particular threat to the environment and should be removed.
Identify environmentally sound retrieval practices
for ALDFG that prevent impacts on the marine
Promote separate collection of end-of-life fishing gear and ALDFG in relevant ports to enhance its further recovery and preparation for reuse or recycling.
Contribute to and support the implementation of the IMO Action Plan to address marine plastic litter from ships, focusing on measures on ALDFG.
Support and promote prevention, reporting, and recovery, where practicable, of lost items and gear from aquaculture.
Encourage States, in compliance with MARPOL Annex V, to ban the discard of fishing gear in the environment, require the reporting of loss of fishing gear in national regulations, and promote the adoption of other relevant ALDFG measures within regional fisheries management organizations to which they are a member.
Encourage the Parties to the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean to consider measures to prevent ALDFG when developing conservation and management measures for exploratory fishing and any other future fishing activity regulated under the Agreement.
Reducing Marine Litter Inputs from
Ships and Offshore Structures

Ships and offshore structures are sources of marine litter if they do not have the infrastructure and processes onboard or onshore to effectively manage and dispose of their waste. MARPOL is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes and currently includes six technical Annexes addressing specific pollution types. In 2017 the IMO Polar Code entered into force and included amendments to MARPOL, which inter alia restrict the discharge of untreated sewage and garbage from ships and offshore structures into Arctic and Antarctic waters and requires that they be disposed of at facilities at ports and terminals. However, not all ports or terminals throughout the polar regions have adequate waste management infrastructure. Accidents involving ships, which can include loss of containers, are also known sources of marine litter.

Assess the waste generated by ships and offshore structures and identify the gaps and opportunities to collect, sort, dispose, and recycle waste at marinas, ports, and harbors in the Arctic, taking into account local waste management facilities, as well as their capacity and practices.
Identify and promote Arctic-relevant best practices and guidelines for environmentally sound management of MARPOL-regulated waste generated by ships and offshore structures.
Encourage Arctic States to enhance inspection and enforcement on ships, on offshore structures, and at ports and terminals, where feasible, for compliance with MARPOL Annex V.
Promote and incorporate, when relevant to Arctic waters and Arctic States, the International Standard Organization’s (ISO) existing standards for addressing the management and handling of ship-generated waste.
Review the IMO’s annual reports on alleged inadequate port reception facilities and encourage implementation of, where possible, solutions to address inadequacies and trends found in ports used by vessels operating in or transiting through Arctic waters.
Continue supporting Arctic States’ ongoing contributions to the IMO to develop Arctic-specific amendments to MARPOL to allow for regional arrangements of port reception facilities.
Encourage Arctic States participating in those regional arrangements to subsequently develop a Regional Reception Facilities Plan for IMO approval and Arctic State implementation.
Support and encourage the use of existing, or the development of new where needed, best practices and site-specific guidelines that contribute to reducing marine litter for near-shore and coastal areas of the Arctic visited by marine tourism vessels and pleasure craft.
Contribute to and support the implementation of the IMO Action Plan to address marine plastic litter from ships, focusing on the effectiveness of port reception facilities, including waste collection and recycling, and on prevention of cargo loss.
Improving Onshore Waste and
Wastewater Management

The conditions for waste and wastewater management vary throughout the circumpolar Arctic, including some regions with advanced systems and some communities with little or no infrastructure. There are unique characteristics across remote communities in Arctic coastal regions, including low population densities, variable concentration of communities along coastlines and rivers, and a general lack of infrastructure for local waste collection. These characteristics mean that there may be instances of locally high inputs of litter into the marine environment due to a lack of access to environmentally sound waste and wastewater management and the challenges and cost of sewage treatment and garbage removal.

Develop best practices and guidelines to improve the waste management and recycling systems in Arctic areas at the appropriate levels of jurisdiction.
Share and promote best practices to prevent litter from entering the marine environment through sewage, stormwater, and wastewater outlets, where such infrastructure exists or is feasible.
Engage with remote Arctic communities to develop training and technical materials on ways to improve collection and sustainable management of waste and wastewater such as by considering pathways for transport of waste out of remote communities to processing and disposal facilities.
Identify hot spot source areas of litter in upstream regions of rivers that flow into the Arctic and ways to reduce the input from these potential point and non-point-sources to the Arctic. This could include enhanced cooperation with river basin authorities to prevent and reduce input from these hot spots.
Identify landfills and open dumpsites near to Arctic coastal zones and waterways, particularly those at greatest risk of leakage and/or already being affected by coastal erosion, weather conditions, permafrost thaw, and natural disasters.
Review best practices for remedial action to prevent unintentional release of waste into the marine environment from affected or susceptible landfills and open dumpsites, and develop guidelines at the appropriate levels of jurisdiction to clean up and restore affected areas in the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way.
Sustainable Materials Management
in the Arctic Environment

Preventing litter from entering the marine environment is the top priority; as such, it is also important to consider the sources of litter and the life-cycle of products, and materials that end up as litter, as well as their alternatives. Considering this allows for opportunities to recover resources and economic value that may otherwise be lost. This can be done through improving product design, putting in place collection systems, improving recycling capacity, creating or enhancing markets for recycled material, and/or looking to alternative materials where appropriate. While some of the activities may occur outside the Arctic such as product design, ultimate efficacy for sustainable materials management depends on the unique needs and challenges found within the region. The Arctic Council members may also work together to seek innovative solutions for different aspects of the material life-cycle.

Identify and share information on products, materials, services and practices that reduce waste and support sustainable materials management in the Arctic, taking into account the full lifecycle of products and impacts of alternatives.
Develop and share, in accordance with national circumstances, best practices, measures, and tools, including incentives, that will improve the lifecycle of products and materials, focusing on those most commonly found in the Arctic.
Promote the development and design of materials for use in fishing gear that minimizes impacts upon ecosystems or the environment from ALDFG.
Promote the use of incentives, as appropriate within national programs, to support the reduction of high loss fishing gear used by industry.
Cleaning Arctic Coasts

One of the most effective ways of reducing marine litter on the coast is to conduct coastal clean-ups. Coastal cleanups have several positive effects such as identifying the main sources of litter present along the coastline, reducing the chances of animals getting caught in or ingesting the litter, and raising awareness through local community engagement. Coastal clean-ups also serve as a source of data regarding the amount, distribution, and/or composition of marine litter found in the Arctic, and, in some instances, can benefit from harmonized monitoring methods. As there are high economic costs of cleaning marine litter from beaches and coastal areas, Arctic States have different approaches to conducting clean-ups when it comes to organization, financing, and data registration. There are also significant opportunities to develop a comprehensive understanding of how to conduct shoreline cleanup activities effectively, taking into account the environment, and health, and safety measures.

Share experiences in implementing national and
other relevant programs for mapping environmentally sound removal, and disposal of marine litter found on shorelines, waterways, and
nearshore areas in the Arctic, including opportunities to recover the materials through reuse and
recycling of the litter.
Promote best practices for the detection, removal, reuse and recycling of marine litter along Arctic shorelines, waterways, and nearshore areas. This includes efforts that: minimize adverse environmental effects; facilitate participation of citizens regarding reporting and clean-up activities; promote safety; assess logistical feasibility of removal in Arctic remote communities; and promote integration of data on litter accumulation, quantities, and types.
Share experiences and promote national regulations and other approaches to prevent, identify, prioritize, and remove or remediate abandoned and wrecked vessels that pose a threat in the Arctic, particularly in ecologically sensitive and culturally important areas.
Involve Indigenous Peoples and local communities, youth, and young adults in clean-up actions.
Strengthening Monitoring and Research

While a number of research initiatives and organizations are active in the region, the level of current knowledge on litter in Arctic marine ecosystems varies throughout the Arctic. There are opportunities to improve monitoring and research to better understand the sources, distribution, temporal and spatial trends, and pathways of marine litter in the Arctic, as well as its impacts on Arctic marine ecosystems and implications for Arctic communities. The work of Arctic States, the Arctic Council, and relevant research organizations and entities, as well as inclusion of traditional knowledge and local knowledge, are vital for exploring solutions to emerging issues in the Arctic and contribute to the knowledge base for decision-making. The Arctic Council has a number of initiatives that support coordination and priority setting of monitoring research in the Arctic context which complement the Strategic Actions in this section.

Share experiences in implementing national and other relevant programs for mapping environmentally sound removal, and disposal of marine litter found on shorelines, waterways, and nearshore areas in the Arctic, including opportunities to recover the materials through reuse and recycling of the litter.
Promote harmonized approaches to detect, monitor, characterize, and assess marine litter in the Arctic environment applying the current state of knowledge.
Encourage the collection and sharing of data on litter quantity and composition from removal and clean-up activities, integrating community engagement and citizen science.
Improve understanding and modeling of the sources, sinks, movement, distribution, and temporal trends of marine litter in the Arctic, including pathways into the Arctic, to help identify and prioritize Arctic hot spots and other key geographic areas of concern.
Identify and understand the impacts of marine litter on the environment and wildlife species of ecological, commercial, and cultural importance (e.g., plankton, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals) in the Arctic, including entanglement, ingestion, and potential contaminant transfer from marine litter to wildlife.
Identify and understand the potential impacts of marine litter on human health and implications for Arctic communities, including the potential transfer of contaminants through the food chain.
Promote and support research to identify the existing and potential socio-economic impacts of marine litter in the Arctic in both private and public sectors and at cultural, community, and regional levels.
Advance research on technologies and innovations for the prevention, as well as environmentally sound removal, of marine litter, taking into account the unique conditions of the Arctic.
Support research on the generation and spread of microplastics from wear and tear of plastic materials in the Arctic, e.g., from fisheries and aquaculture gear.

Outreach and education activities tailored to specific audiences, including: different levels of government; Indigenous Peoples and local communities; the fisheries and aquaculture, shipping, and tourism industries; waste practitioners; educators and youth; and the general public, are key to achieving a reduction of marine litter at its sources, both within and outside the region. Communicating information on the following can contribute to actions by individuals and sectors: current research findings; traditional and local knowledge; best practices; how to reduce, reuse, or recycle waste before it becomes marine litter; and the impacts on wildlife and communities. In the Arctic context, working with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to increase awareness about marine litter, leveraging traditional knowledge and local knowledge, and incorporating local circumstances and cultural considerations will be important when conducting outreach and education.

Increase awareness of information and best practices relevant to MARPOL Annex V measures, including Polar Code amendments, targeting Arctic operations and owners of vessels that operate in the Arctic.
Increase awareness, including through the development and distribution of educational material, across Arctic communities and relevant sectors on best waste management practices that reduce their contribution to marine litter.
Raise vessel owners’ awareness of the financial and environmental costs of abandoned and wrecked vessels, national or local legislation prohibiting such actions, as appropriate, and of options and procedures for responsible disposal of vessels to prevent improper vessel disposal.
Identify, share, and promote Arctic-relevant best practices, research, and funding opportunities to reduce waste and marine litter.
Support or promote curricula for marine-related education for the commercial and recreational sectors to develop awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the Arctic marine environment.
Support and collaborate with youth organizations to facilitate intergenerational dialogue on marine litter and encourage positive action.
Enhance awareness of threats that ALDFG pose to the marine environment and maritime safety.
Conduct outreach and communication with fishing organizations and the aquaculture industry on the types of gear typically found in Arctic coastal clean-ups to improve understanding of ALDFG and lead to better fishing practices.
Promote initiatives, tools, and guidance that inform households, youth, schools, businesses, and institutions to facilitate behavior that reduces waste ending up as marine litter in the Arctic environment.
Identify and adapt successful anti-littering campaigns for use by Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the Arctic, engaging/involving youth and incorporating local and cultural considerations, traditional knowledge, and local knowledge.
Host or participate in events on marine litter in the Arctic, focusing on the latest science, traditional knowledge and local knowledge, and best practices.
International Cooperation

The Arctic marine environment is part of the global oceans system. Current trends in the Arctic could have lasting effects that will persist into the future. International cooperation and communication is important to reducing marine litter, including in the Arctic region.

There are a number of regional sea programs, international organizations, and global initiatives that work on marine litter issues. Cooperation with such bodies could enable Arctic States to leverage and advance the policies, guidelines, and tools developed by these organizations and initiatives, including to share information on new findings, best practices and lessons learned.

Communicate and exchange information on marine litter with regional seas programs and other relevant fora on the development of best practices and policy frameworks.
Cooperate with relevant international and regional organizations, non-profits, and the private sector on initiatives that address prevention, reduction, and removal of marine litter.
Promote and support complementary efforts that address marine litter and strengthen cooperation among Arctic States and relevant institutions.
Encourage the sharing of scientific research and monitoring activities, data, and results relevant to marine litter in the Arctic to enable decision-making based on the best available scientific information.
Participate in international events on marine litter issues to highlight the work on and management of marine litter in the Arctic and the interlinkages of marine litter to other regions.
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