Article series - Status Iceland

The knowledge gap - Marine Litter in Icelandic waters

In the 2017 report on micro- and macro-plastics to the Nordic Council of Ministers, Iceland is mainly mentioned in the sections discussing the lack of data and information. In many aspects of managing and harvesting marine resources, Iceland has been an innovator and pioneer but is lagging behind with respect to recording and monitoring marine litter.

Plastic botle


This is not to say that micro and macro-plastics have not been a topic in the Icelandic scientific community, but the topic has only recently caught the public’s attention. Efforts for data collection and management of the issue have been quite fragmented.  Volunteer groups and sometimes individuals have been the main drivers for clean-up efforts along the coastline. As commendable as those clean-ups are they do not produce reliable information on marine litter with regards to composition, distribution and origin.

Lack of coordination of those voluntary efforts also results in them of them often fading out after a short period of time. For a few years now, electronic log-books for the gill-net fisheries have had the feature to report lost gill-nets to the coast guard. Initially few nets were reported lost, but no nets have been reported in recent years. As such this feature in the electronic logbook system does no longer provide any usable data on the scale of the problem as zero loss of gillnets is implausible.

For an effective monitoring system, both strategic data collection and management of waste sources must go hand in hand. The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland aims to be an integral part of both. For a few years now, during demersal trawl surveys, plastic waste has been collected and recorded in the main database. The following maps show the location of plastic waste records from the demersal fall survey during the past 3 years.


What is lacking in the MFRI database records is a categorization of the identity of the origin of the plastic waste. Each dot on the maps above could be a rubber boot, a longline or a net-panel. The aim is to assign a type or a category to each piece of plastic found in any survey, so each category can be queried later. This, in turn, will allow modelling of plastic waste distribution in relation to fishing efforts through logbooks and VMS data.

Additionally, tracing of discarded and lost gear must be improved. As this is an effort that involves policymakers, industry professionals and researchers alike, it is a more complex issue. One idea is to link gear used automatically to electronic logbooks through individual tags for each gear. This way there would be increased pressure on the fishing industry to report lost gear.

The text writer - Georg Haney from Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) in Iceland