The Plastic Project: Data Collection for the Alfred-Wegener-Institute on SV Antigua

Tot ziens, Franeker! Today the SV Antigua leaves Franeker in direction to Harlingen, and on Sunday we start sailing towards Spitsbergen. In that season we realize an exciting project on board of SV Antigua, which I have initiated together with the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research: We will survey the plastic pollution of sea and coastlines on our way – together with our guests.

Since I have stepped the first time on Spitsbergen and found myself knee-deep in plastic garbage, I worry about the extent of the pollution of our seas.

Here are some recent numbers about our oceans:

  • In the southern North Sea 236 plastic particles per 100 meter beach line have been measured, 11 kilo of garbage per square kilometer ocean floor, 97,4 % of the bird nests on Helgoland contain plastic and 95% of dead Fulmars had plastic in their stomachs, in the average 25 pieces.

The collection of these data is important for obtaining knowledge about the current level of pollution. Together with  Melanie Bergmann and Lars Gutow from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) I have developed a project, in which we will collect such data with our guests.

The SV Antigua is a perfect ship for this purpose. The dedicated crew of SV Antigua was one of the first to collect plastic in Spitsbergen. Often the guests themselves ask for it, as soon as they see the garbage on the beaches. With the SV Antigua we are also able to sail to beaches which are rarely or never visited by other, bigger ships, to obtain data about the real amount of garbage.

Together with the AWI we have realized, that we need to modify our plastic collection only in minor aspects and record it, to obtain data which satisfies scientific standards.

We will realize two different kinds of measurements:

  • Transects during the cruises: We record, how much and which kind we see floating in the water beside the ship, on a GPS measured transect.
  • Garbage survey on the coast: All garbage in a defined beach area is photographed, collected, separated in categories and weighed, before it is brought to the ship.

The Alfred-Wegener-Institute has equipped us with scientific forms, which are used also during projects on SV Polarstern, and has supplied us with scales and GPS. Our collected data goes to a big AWI datasystem about the plastic pollution of our oceans.

We hope, that we can collect some significant data during this season, which illustrates the level of pollution in Spitsbergen. We, the crew of the Antigua and the scientists of AWI are very excited to see how the project will turn out and which data we will be able to collect – and how much interest our guests will have in this project.

The AWI has in any case already sent a pallet of presents to Franeker, which we will hand over to our guests for their effort!

We leave Harlingen on Sunday, the 8th of May, direction North. I will try to make some updates here about the progress of our project. One thing is already sure: We will find enough garbage.