CleanSea final symposium & film première

A marine litter symposium with a difference

Over 200 enthusiastic participants were in Amsterdam’s EYE Film Institute on Dec 3 to experience the CleanSea Symposium and Premiere of the CleanSea documentary film – a milestone in the first EU FP7 interdisciplinary research project on Marine Litter, led by Dr. Heather Leslie of IVM.

The CleanSea Marine Litter Symposium & Film Premiere was attended by well over 200 participants from science, policy, industry, civil society and the media in the largest cinema of EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam on December 3, 2015. The interdisciplinary research carried out in the European FP7 CleanSea Project was presented, along with a film produced as part of the project. If you missed it you can still catch it on YouTube (see below, also you can watch the full event here or single videos in this playlist in our channel).

Interdisciplinary team studies a ‘wicked problem’

CleanSea Project Coordinator Heather Leslie kicked off the afternoon along with presenter Lars Sørensen, introducing the audience to each other and to complexity of the ‘wicked problem’ of marine litter that the CleanSea Project team has been studying since January 2013.

Fundamental transitions

Dr. Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency talked about how marine litter triggers our need for innovation. He brought the marine litter issue into the context of how ‘living well within environmental limits requires a transition to a resource-efficient, circular, low-carbon economy’. He showed how this is going to take ‘fundamental transitions in food, energy, mobility, urban, finance and fiscal systems, which are attainable through profound changes in dominant practices, policies and thinking’. The EEA’s Marine Litter Watch app was being downloaded by audience members as the presentation was happening.

Impacts on the marine environment

A series of 7-minute presentations by eight researchers from the CleanSea Project covered topics reflecting the interdisciplinarity of the work. We heard from Andrew Watts and Myra van der Meulen about accumulation and impact of microplastics on zooplankton, microalgae, crabs and vertebrates, and how ecosystem modeling exercises predicted a reduction in the total biomass of marine animals in the sea. If we continue polluting the sea with our garbage, we risk damaging the ecosystem functioning that we depend on. A hydrodynamic model that helps us understand how litter is transported in the marine system was demonstrated by Ghada El Serafy, making use of both microplastic data and the seabed litter data coming out of the project. Therese Karlsson presented methodological aspects of analyzing marine litter, demonstrating that a wide range of techniques e.g. Near-Infrared, Fourier Transform Infrared and Raman spectroscopy, hyperspectral imaging and mass spectrometry have all been applied in CleanSea. Because there is no ‘one size fits all’ method – we must continue to develop and use the spectrum of techniques to answer different research and monitoring questions. The new CleanSea microplastic sampler for the water column was introduced. This piece of equipment makes it possible to more accurately measure water volume for microlitter concentration determination than traditional methods.

Eradicating marine litter makes economic sense

Social scientists on the team gave reasons why preventing marine litter makes economic sense. Dariya Hadzhiyska explained how the high social costs of marine litter in coastal areas across Europe were measured in CleanSea and that marine litter negatively affects welfare. Economic instruments such as taxes, deposit return schemes and subsidies are all part of the solution, as we heard from Pedro Fernández.

Let’s get implementing

Susanne Altvater explained how a mix of hard and soft law and more conscientious implementation of existing legislation can get us much further than where we are now. Marine litter is certainly a political problem that cannot be addressed by technology alone. Voluntary measures to reduce marine litter can also be effective in some cases, as Agni Kalfagianni explained, especially when big players are on board and measures can be scaled up. It’s important that monitoring and compliance mechanisms are in place, and there is still a big role for government to play, through providing targets and delegating authority for implementing measures.

Intersection of values, economy and politics

An ecological future without marine litter demands a different hierarchy of values, and a different economic and political organization of our societies. That’s a tall order. To help that sink in, Vincenzo Castellana brought the audience into a mood in which we could pause to think about what value the sea holds for us. His performance of Sicilian maritime folklore, with instruments ranging from a sea shell to the traditional tambourine of Southern Italy were accompanied by lyrical texts expressing feelings of both regret and respect for the sea.

Message to the future

Heather Leslie presented the CleanSea Project’s roadmap to litter free seas, with a vision of how we can have a future with a clean sea init,  but that there’s no time to waste. We can apply the policies, measures and knowledge that we already have at our fingertips.

During the symposium program, the documentary film produced by Callisto Productions as part of the project went into première – a powerful visual presentation of the project’s results and messages. Representatives from three UNEP Regional Seas regions participated in a panel discussion: Irina Makarenko (Black Sea Commission), Stefanie Werner (HELCOM, Baltic Sea) and John Mouat (OSPAR, North East Atlantic) each gave their take on the actions in these regions. The day wrapped up with a reiteration of the importance of system change and the urgency for every organization to explore what actions it can implement to reduce marine litter.

Closing the loop

There was a story behind the colourful sea turtle and shark artworks on the symposium stage – Ocean Sole ‘cleaning beaches, creating masterpieces’ creates these from marine plastic litter that is fished out of the ocean and collected from African beaches. One might dream of the day when all the ocean plastic has been grossly ‘overfished’, and art can be made from recyclate materials with no histories of pollution. Although it’s unusual for a scientific project to admit it, facts alone are not enough to inspire action. People also need to be motivated by experiences and emotions. The symposium presented scientific results in combination with film, music, ocean plastic sea creatures, and with an interactive audience. With any luck, participants came out of EYE Cinema 1 thinking a little bit differently from when they entered, taking with them new ideas, knowledge and connections and a motivation to implement the marine litter reduction measures within their reach.

The symposium was organised by the CleanSea Project Coordinator Heather Leslie and her marine litter team at IVM-VU University in Amsterdam, with the help of Carolina Pérez and Pedro Fernández of EUCC Mediterranean Centre in Barcelona, a CleanSea consortium partner.