A whole nation of beach cleaners
Volunteers, organisations, public agencies and business and industry are working actively in the battle against marine litter. The common goal is to take care of our coastline and the ocean. How can we do a better job at working across boundaries to create the results we all want? This is something the county governor of Troms and Finnmark, the Norwegian Outdoor Board and Aktiv i friluft (active outdoors) on Svalbard know a lot about.
The regional coordinator
In the counties of Troms and Finnmark, the county governor primarily works with coordination, to achieve a broader impact and use the experience they have from projects they have taken part in. In 2012, the County Governor of Troms, the county authority, the municipalities of Tromsø, Balsfjord and Karlsøy, the Norwegian Coastal Guard, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association, Remiks waste company, landowners, volunteers and various research communities in Tromsø joined forces in the project Ren Kyst (Clean Coast).
“The objective was to see how we could work to highlight marine litter challenges by implementing measures and collecting knowledge about the sources,” says Evy Jørgensen, assisting environmental director at the County Governor of Troms and Finnmark.
New focus on litter
They had already “discovered” the marine litter problem through the “Skrotnisseprosjektet”, where the municipalities uncovered illegal dumpsites and learned that litter was accumulating in hard-to-reach places along the Troms coastline.
“This simply gave us a new focus on litter, and we saw how this pollution motivated many people to get involved. Marine litter soon became a priority, and the Ren Kyst project really showed the scope of what is drifting ashore in Troms and Finnmark, and how a well-coordinated project can produce results. Bo Eide at Troms municipality has been an enormous resource in the project. Now we have broadened the scope of the Our coast forum (“Kysten vårres”), where even more players take an active part and we can share challenges, information and advice, and cooperate,” Evy continues.
“We can all take responsibility”
There is considerable passion about this cause in Troms and Finnmark, and more and more players are contributing to the work. Evy Jørgensen believes there are an infinite number of tasks that need to be addressed. To her, it’s not just about the cleanups, but also about eliminating the sources. At the County Governor of Troms and Finnmark, they are working to develop the professional cleanup work, and last year, they cooperated with the Norwegian Coastal Administration. They have also increased their focus on plastic waste and plastic handling in their own operations. One example from this winter is snow clearing of football fields with plastic granulate. Evy Jørgensen is concerned about the bigger picture. She thinks we need to see the coast as a whole, and that the challenge is to establish available policy instruments and keep pushing for the circular economy.
The mapping of our coast is not good enough. We see the things on the beach, but not what is on the seabed. We need to focus on the natural diversity below water, and establish knowledge that can help us in our work. And then we need to focus on the sources. We can all take responsibility.
-Evy Jørgensen at the County Governor in Troms and Finnmark.
Norway has 10 county governor offices, which are responsible for several tasks related to climate and the environment. For example, the county governor has been assigned the role as regional coordinator for marine litter in their region. They must ensure good cooperation among various players, and coordinate and streamline all cleanup efforts.
The grand orchestra
In our opinion, taking care of nature is a natural part of hiking. We have actually been cleaning up beaches since the dawn of time. Everyone is talking about the plastic whale, but beach clean-up has been a part of our job for several decades.Asgeir Knudsen, the Norwegian Outdoor Board
Across the nation, the outdoor recreation councils cooperate and organise campaigns, they receive information about littered areas, the schools use them, and they also help volunteers collect litter. For the outdoor councils, litter knows no bounds and they consider themselves part of the system in the work against marine litter. During the coordinating gathering held for the nation’s coordinators in February in Svolvær, Asgeir Knudsen talked about the grand orchestra, how everyone who plays a part, small or large, needs to be heard and taken care of.
“I just attended a kick-off for beach clean-up in Haugesund where a person talked about how much energy he and his sister put into cleaning up, how they hauled ropes and hawsers and worked really hard. There are so many similar voices out there and they need to be heard. The balance between volunteering and management must be good. We need to take care of the passion and not drown it in mapping and data,” he says.
Need a long-term perspective
According to Asgeir Knudsen, the biggest challenge to their work is the lack of long-term perspective. Their frameworks for marine litter are project-based from year to year. He also believes that the Archipelago Service (Skjærgårdstjenesten), which is currently linked to State recreational areas, should be expanded.
“We wish we could get more long-term project funding over multiple years, and we also see the benefit of the Archipelago Service when it comes to marine litter. Today, this service only extends to the Møre coast. There are too few State recreational areas further north, and therefore no Archipelago Service. We need to try to change this to adapt to the times we live in. We want the Archipelago Service to be there to take care of the natural environment regardless of whether or not it is a State recreational area.”
There are a total of 29 outdoor recreation councils in Norway. All outdoor recreation councils are inter-municipal. The goal is to promote outdoor recreation, where everything from establishing trails to collaborating with the authorities on outdoor recreation and public health are measures that the Norwegian Outdoor Board works on with its members.
We could probably be cleaning beaches for the next 50 years on Svalbard. Making everyone aware of how extensive the marine litter problem is on an island that is so isolated and so far away from large populations is important.Silje M. Hagen, Aktiv i friluft-project
Silje M. Hagen works on the Aktiv i friluft project (active outdoors) on Svalbard, which is run by the athletic club in Longyearbyen on Svalbard using funds from Svalbard’s Environmental Protection Fund. The objective of the project is to promote recreational activities for the local population. In 2016, they organised a city-wide initiative in Longyearbyen to clean up litter in the community. This created awareness about marine litter on Svalbard and they applied for funding from the Norwegian Environment Agency for Prosjekt Isfjorden.
In 2017, they started organising cleanup trips to different beaches in Isfjorden. The project includes daytrips and overnight trips. There are many concerns to take into account when it comes to risk associated with beach clean-up on Svalbard. Considerable efforts have therefore been made to establish HSE, good routines, information and a sound system for implementation. For Prosjekt Isfjorden, giving people good outdoor recreational experiences and the opportunity to be a part of the solution to a global problem has been the driving force. Many of Svalbard’s residents greatly appreciate nature and the project allows them to give something back to the environment. Over the course of two Arctic summers, the project has cleaned up 16 tonnes of waste.
“We have seen that many of those who participate come along on several trips despite the heavy lifting and occasional hard physical labour involved. Enthusiasm grows naturally when people are in the field. They get to see, dig, lift, cooperate, accomplish and make a difference. Helping people get out in the field is the most important thing we do to preserve their passion.”
The Cleanup Svalbard forum was established on Svalbard, and Aktiv i friluft participates here along with AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), the Governor of Svalbard, the Longyearbyen local council, Svalbardbutikken (Coop), Hurtigruten Svalbard, Visit Svalbard and the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund. The goal is to achieve the best possible coordinated response to marine litter. An overview of cleaned areas, planned campaigns and where they will take place, as well as how to improve coordination in the field, is needed. Among other things, waste management is a challenge that Prosjekt Isfjorden encounters.
“Transport and safety are the biggest challenges for our beach clean-up missions. As for transport, it’s difficult to get large, heavy objects from the beach to a waste facility. We are working on establishing a good, local solution for waste collection in the field.”
Text: Lise M. Strömqvist
Photo: Helga Bårdsdatter Kristiansen, Silje M. Hagen, Bo Eide, Fylkesmannen i Troms og Finnmark, Asgeir Knudsen