Plastics in the Arctic and Subarctic

ICES co-sponsors ​International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region. ​
Published: 22 October 2019

​​​​The International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region will take place 21–23 April 2020 in Reykjavik, Iceland and the call for papers is open​​​. 

We asked Olafur Astthorsson, Marine Research Institute and ICES Icelandic delegate, why members of our community should attend and what the symposium hopes to achieve.

Why is ICES co-sponsoring this symposium?
The discussion on plastic, and especially plastic in our oceans, has increased dramatically over the past few years. It is estimated that circa 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s and that 150 million tonnes of this is now in the marine environment. The enormity of the problem has led to demands for action to mitigate the problem.

Arctic research has been an action area for our organization over the last decade. Today, ICES cooperates with several international organizations active in arctic science, including the Arctic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers (main sponsors of the symposium).

Why should members of our community take part?
ICES Science plan lays out seven scientific priorities for the organization, including the “Impacts of human activities", “Conservation and management", and “Sea and society". The upcoming plastics symposium covers these specific priorities by evaluating how extensive the status of plastic pollution is in Arctic and Subarctic waters, where it comes from, and how it is transported to the region. We will also be investigating how breakdown processes operate in the region, how the different types and sizes of plastic affect organisms, what are the possible mitigation methods and how can they be put into operation.

This symposium will be a step towards expanding ICES presence in Arctic and Subarctic waters. Topics under discussion at the symposium are directly related to the work of many ICES expert groups, in particular the groups on marine litter (WGML), zooplankton ecology 
(WGZE), seabirds (JWGBIRD), marine chemistry (MCWG), biological effects of contaminants (WGBEC), oceanic hydrography (WGOH), and the integrated ecosystem assessment group (IEA) for the Central Arctic Ocean (WGICA).

What are some examples of work by our community in this area?
The new Working Group on Marine Litter (WGML) are doing some interesting work. The goal of WGML is to provide scientific guidance towards the international harmonization of monitoring data for litter and to function as a knowledge base for other international organizations. The group has already mapped seafloor litter/microplastic monitoring approaches and discussed the best channels to distribute the key information they produce by establishing an overview of national and international drivers and linkages. 

What do the organizers hope the symposium achieves?

This symposium will be a platform for exchanging views and information on the threat of plastic to ocean life. As such, it will elucidate both the status of plastic pollution and current plastic research in Arctic and Subarctic waters, and hopefully lead to harmonization of definitions and methodological standards. 

A high-level discussion between ministers and research directors will guide decisions on the next steps for research and mitigating the effects of plastic in the region's marine ecosystems.


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Plastics in the Arctic and Subarctic

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