Cleaning up Svalbard on World Cleanup Day

Josh Wright

15 Sep 2018

Over 40,000kg of marine litter have been removed from Svalbard’s shores in 2018

The last of our 2018 Svalbard expeditions has made it back to dry land, and with September halfway gone, the cruise season for all travel outfitters operating in the Arctic is now drawing to a close. To mark the occasion, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) have sent out a press release documenting the efforts of all those who have participated in Clean Up Svalbard, an initiative that encourages all visitors to aid in ridding this polar paradise from manmade debris.

Fewer than 3,000 people live on Svalbard year-round, yet more than 40,000kg of waste has been collected over the last six months or so, a figure which is cause for both celebration and concern. On the one hand, the fact that this waste will no longer pollute Svalbard’s environment and endanger its wildlife is of course a good thing, and as every piece of litter is brought back to Longyearbyen to be processed, the hope is that much of it will be able to be recycled. However, the fact that such a huge amount of litter has been borne here by the tides – mostly plastic items and cast-offs from the fishing trade – is a stark indication of how humans are impacting even the most remote and untouched of landscapes (Svalbard is one of the least densely populated places on earth).

The total amount of waste collected is also expected to rise. Vessels are still exploring Svalbard as of today, and two of the waste containers in Longyearbyen have yet to be weighed. The current amount (which equates to over 80 polar bears!) is the result of cleanups organised by Svalbard’s local sports association, Governor of Svalbard volunteer cruises, the Norwegian Coast Guard, the Norwegian Royal Family and the members of AECO, including Natural World Safaris. The images below were taken on Scoresbyøya, a remote island in the far north of Svalbard, during our expedition on board the M/S Malmö that was led by Chase Teron, Mats Forsberg and Nate Small. This cleanup was one of at least 127 conducted by NWS and other AECO members this year.

Keeping Svalbard as pristine as possible isn’t just about picking up litter, however. “I’ve visited 21 ships and witnessed the changes they are making, for example by installing water dispensers to get rid of disposable water bottles,” says Sarah Auffret, the AECO’s Environmental Agent. “Our members are helping document the distribution, composition and origin of the waste that they collect. This information can give researchers valuable insight that ultimately will help us beat plastic pollution.”

World Cleanup Day couldn’t have come at a better time for those concerned about Svalbard’s pollution problem. Although Clean Up Svalbard “is about cutting down on single-use plastic and cleaning up litter that has already found its way to the ocean, it’s also about educating people,” says Auffret. “Photos of polar bears chewing on Styrofoam send a strong message about how important it is that we change our habits. With World Cleanup Day happening this Saturday, there are many events organised around the world. We encourage everyone to join a cleanup and reflect on the choices they make as consumers.”

For more information on how the AECO are helping to preserve Arctic environments, head to their website and read our blog on marine plastic pollution. If you want to do your part, you can organise your own local cleanup – wherever you are in the world – or participate in Clean Up Svalbard during one of our expeditions to the Arctic archipelago.

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