Plastic pollution in the Arctic is found on beaches, in the water column, in sea ice, sediments and even in the bodies of Arctic birds and mammals.
Little is currently understood about how plastics travel into and out of Arctic waters, and what risks plastics present to Arctic life and livelihoods.
As the current Chair of the Arctic Council, Iceland is making Arctic plastic pollution and marine litter a priority in the work of the Arctic Council. Five of the Arctic Council's six Working Groups are managing projects that address the issue in some way.
Arctic species from cod to fulmars to belugas have been found with elevated volumes of plastic in their stomachs.
Abandoned fishing gear and other plastic litter can trap sealife.
Floating plastic can act as a raft that speeds the travel of invasive species. On Svalbard, non-native barnacles have been found on plastic debris.
More research is needed on the risks of micro- and nanoplastics in Arctic food sources and marine ecosystems.
Floating plastic debris can obstruct or damage vessels.
When we speak of plastics, we need to reverse an old saying to ‘back in sight, back in mind’. Plastic pollution is one of the major issues marine environments face today and we need to coordinate our actions to tackle it effectively. We need to address the issue at all levels of our society.
PAME launched a bottle equipped with a GPS transmitter into the Atlantic on 12 September 2019. Called “plastic in a bottle”, the capsule simulates how marine litter and plastics travel far distances into and out of Arctic waters.
Find out where it washed ashore.
Some of the plastic waste in the Arctic comes from small remote communities within the region. Arctic Council projects are providing communities with new tools to better manage plastic pollution and other sources of marine litter.
Arctic Council Working Groups are monitoring the impact of marine litter and plastic pollution on seabirds. We’re also tracking how plastics move into the Arctic with currents, wind and waves, and developing monitoring guidelines to inform policy-makers.
Through the Arctic Council, Arctic States and Indigenous peoples are working together to develop the first regional action plan to address marine litter in the Arctic. The plan would reduce litter’s negative impact on the region's ecosystem and potentially serve as a blueprint for the rest of the world’s oceans.
This video was produced with the support of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Marine litter in the Arctic impacts not just wildlife, but also public health and safety and socioeconomic wellbeing.
The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group has assessed the state of knowledge on marine litter around the Arctic.
The study improves our understanding of marine litter in the Arctic and its effects; enhances international cooperation to reduce negative impacts and will help prevent and reduce marine litter pollution in the Arctic.
Learn more about the Arctic Council's work on plastic and litter.
In March 2021, scientists from around the Arctic and the world will come together for the first time to address the problem of plastic litter in the Arctic.
Some of the questions they’ll address:
Find out more