Symposium summary: Day 1
Welcoming and Opening Addresses
In the opening remarks, Bjarni Benediktsson (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland) reminded us about the importance of solidarity to address the problem of plastic pollution, worldwide. In 2021, the First Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region was held, and it became clear that further discussions were necessary. By hosting the Second Symposium, the Government of Iceland hopes to raise awareness, facilitate collaboration, and foster more robust efforts.
Morten Høglund (SAO Chair, Norway), reminded us about the importance and history of the Arctic Council. It is challenging times for circumpolar collaborations. In the six months since Norway took over chairship of the Arctic Council, the overall objective has been to to promote stability and constructive collaboration. The Norwegian chairship prioritises four topics: the oceans; climate and environment, sustainable economic development; and people in the North.
Lise M. Strømqvist (Norwegian Centre against Marine Litter) and Olav Lekve (Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries) presented the promotional video Are you feeding the plastic monster? Small pieces of ropes and net cuttings make a large portion of marine litter found in Norway. To understand the complexity and parts of like nature and human behaviour, we create myths and creatures like monsters. Stories can show how problems can be solved by creating awareness and changing people's attitudes towards the types of litter that are abundant in the Arctic. People need to stop throwing rope cuttings and other pieces of plastic overboard, and manageable routines for litter handling must be introduced.
Jyoti Mathur-Filipp (INC Secretariat of United Nations Environmental Program), gave us an update on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process, only three days after the last negotiation meeting in Nairobi. In the face of a plastic pollution crisis, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted the historic resolution 5/14 in March 2022, initiating the development of an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. The third session of the INC in Nairobi marked a critical milestone, progressing discussions on the Chair's zero draft text. Over 1,900 delegates from 161 UN member states participated, electing a new committee chair and two vice-chairs. The session concluded with an agreement on a starting point for negotiation at the fourth session. The revised zero draft text will be released on December 31, and the momentum of collaboration, compromise, and commitment from Nairobi must continue into future sessions in Ottawa and Busan. The ambitious timeline aims to combat plastic pollution by the end of 2024, reflecting the strong engagement of governments and civil society in addressing the crisis.
David Hik (Polar Knowledge Canada), based in the Canadian High Arctic in the community of Cambridge Bay, emphasizes the significance of local research facilities, particularly the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), in understanding and addressing global issues like plastic pollution. He highlighted the challenges faced by remote communities in waste management due to the limitations of supply chains and emphasize the need for sustainable local solutions. The talk underscores the impact of plastics on the environment, particularly in the Arctic, and the importance of research in raising awareness and finding viable solutions. Hik also mentions ongoing efforts in waste diversion and the engagement of young people and national leaders in addressing plastic pollution.
John Aldag (Canadian Member of Parliament, on the OSCE Parliamentary Resolution on Macroplastic and Nanoplastic Pollution) provides an overview of the work of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) work on environmental issues, particularly pollution. Aldag highlights the significance of parliamentarians in addressing environmental challenges, leveraging their power to develop legislation and hold governments accountable. The OSCE PA has a history of addressing pollution in its declarations, and Aldag discusses their resolution on microplastic and nanoplastic pollution, which was adopted in July in Vancouver. This resolution is the first to express concern about the presence of micro- and nanoplastics in the Arctic. Aldag emphasizes the importance of international cooperation, urging OSCE participating states to work towards a binding treaty to control and reduce plastic pollution. The declaration also stresses the need for funding research to advance knowledge and address gaps in understanding micro- and nanoplastic pollution.
The last address came from Eirini Glyki (Science Professional Officer, ICES) discussing the involvement of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in various Arctic research initiatives and collaborations. ICES is participating in conferences, projects, and organizations related to Arctic research planning, high seas fisheries, and ecosystem management. Specifically in the Arctic, we are faced with applying ecosystem based management in situations where marine ecosystems are changing fundamentally and as we heard before, we face a range of cumulative impacts from human activities. The organization emphasizes a multidisciplinary and ecosystem-based approach, seeking solutions to challenges posed by changing marine ecosystems in the Arctic. ICES expresses a commitment to inclusivity by incorporating knowledge from diverse sources, including local and Indigenous communities. The message also extends a welcome to early career scientists, highlighting their importance in contributing ideas and insights to ICES initiatives.
Glyki adds: “By bridging the gap between diverse fields of study, we can then tap into a wealth of knowledge, insights, and perspectives that will enable us to develop comprehensive solutions.”
Parallel sessions on thematic discussions
Please note: An overview of the presentations from the thematic sessions will be presented in the upcoming Symposium Summary Report. The following is a summary from each of the first day’s themes.
THEME 1: Monitoring and assessment of plastic pollution in the Arctic
Key findings presented by Anne Katrine Normann (Centre for the Ocean and the Arctic, UiT—The Arctic University of Norway)
The presentations during the session were enlightening, underscoring a key realization: we possess a wealth of data, but the need for data harmonization is imperative. Standardizing the collection and management of data is crucial, emphasizing collaboration between scientists and industry stakeholders. The focus should shift from creating more databases to determining what data is essential and how it should be utilized.
Efforts toward harmonization should involve transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration, prompting questions about the purpose of data creation—is it for researchers or broader stakeholders? The idea of putting a price on research efforts was raised, highlighting the need to quantify and understand the economic basis of these endeavors. Drawing parallels, Normann recalled working with Norwegian fishermen who lacked routines for quantifying the downtime of their boats, a valuable metric that could be monetized.
The issue of knowledge and data sharing remains challenging, both within countries and internationally. The complexity of accessing such information was emphasized, raising concerns about permissions, collaboration, and research ethics. Temporal trends and seasonal changes were also discussed, questioning the duration required to address these trends effectively. The conversation extended to the incorporation of machine learning technologies in monitoring and the necessity for critical evaluation of data generation and dissemination methods. Overall, the discussions underscored the importance of strategic collaboration, ethical considerations, and thoughtful approaches in navigating the landscape of data in research and monitoring efforts.
THEME 2: Methodological developments to determine macro, micro and nano plastics
Key findings presented by Jóhann Sigurjónsson (former Director, Marine Research Institute)
Reporting on the session on methodological developments in nano-, micro-, and macroplastics has been a challenging yet enlightening task. The discussions during the session provided valuable insights into the disciplined nature of plastics scientists, who adhered to time constraints, reflecting the critical importance of methodological advancements in the theme of the conference.
While the field has witnessed significant progress, the pervasive issue of plastics is relatively recent for many researchers, and long-term monitoring poses challenges. Achieving a comprehensive understanding of the current situation and identifying effective pathways forward necessitates harmonized methods across different geographical contexts. Several speakers highlighted the need for standardization and harmonization in addressing this challenge.
The complexity of plastics research was emphasized, given the diverse nature of plastic materials. The inclusion of artificial intelligence (AI) as a new method and the exploration of appropriate research methods were key points of discussion. The critical question emerged: how can we best support the development and identification of appropriate research methods?
The final point underscored the importance of making information relevant to society, policy, and other stakeholders. This aspect was deemed equally crucial as the research itself, emphasizing the need for widespread collaboration and careful dissemination of accurate information. Acknowledging the role of international bodies, the session participants highlighted the significance of coordinated efforts, with organizations like AMAP serving as exemplary leaders in leveraging expertise from diverse countries. The collective agreement emphasized the need for a united front in addressing the global challenge of plastic pollution.
THEME 3: Sources and transport of plastic in the Arctic and sub-Arctic
Key findings presented by Eirini Glyki (Science Professional Officer, ICES)
To effectively address plastic pollution in the Arctic and meet policy and management objectives, a comprehensive understanding of sources and pathways is imperative. Despite its remoteness, the Arctic has not escaped the impacts of the Anthropocene and the "plastic boom" since the 1950s, evident in beach pollution, terrestrial contamination, and seabed debris.
Microplastics reach the Arctic predominantly from the EU mainland and through the North Atlantic via currents, challenging the perception of the Arctic's pristine state. The session delved into the various pathways, including atmospheric, ice, sea currents, and rivers, emphasizing the need for international collaboration in monitoring, research, and policy implementation.
Local sources significantly contribute to microplastic pollution, necessitating a focus on household waste management and the fishing industry in Arctic communities. The importance of local and Indigenous Knowledge was highlighted in addressing this aspect. Ensuring that research data resonates with policy makers, media, and the public is crucial. Utilizing various media such as articles, films, infographics, and maps can aid in effectively conveying complex information. Establishing relationships and fostering two-way discussions are integral parts of the communication process. Presenting data in ways that cater to different communities and scaling the level of research to suit the audience's understanding ensures inclusivity and active participation in discussions.
Abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG)—particularly fishing nets—poses a significant threat to marine life and to navigation. Mitigation efforts should concentrate on improving the collection and storage of net cuttings on bottom-trawl vessels and implementing proper disposal procedures in ports. Research around Iceland revealed that longlines and trawl nets, made from durable plastic, constitute the majority of marine litter on the seafloor. These materials, entangled with corals and rocks, pose a threat to vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME). This research led to the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA), underscoring the importance of funding and continuing investigations to leverage MPAs and marine spatial planning tools for the protection of essential ecosystems.
Addressing this issue requires consideration of cultural and social drivers, as emphasized in the Norwegian Centre against Marine Litter video shown during the opening session. A compelling message connecting waste management to people's daily lives is essential, necessitating an understanding of the underlying human-induced practices. Investigating cultural and social drivers is crucial for implementing effective waste prevention and improvement strategies.