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Mapping marine debris across coastal communities in Belize: developing a baseline for understanding the distribution of litter on beaches using geographic information systems

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Monitoring of marine debris (also known as marine litter) is an essential step in the process to eradicate ecological dangers in marine ecosystems caused by humans. This study examines marine debris in the Caribbean country of Belize using geographic information systems (GIS) to develop (1) a detailed data library for use on handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units and tablets with mobile mapping applications for deployment in the field and (2) a freely available, online mapping portal to share data with Belizeans to encourage future citizen science efforts. Four diverse communities were targeted ranging from larger more populated towns, to smaller villages across central and southern Belize: San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Punta Gorda, and Monkey River. Fieldwork was conducted over 1 month, during which data points were collected in 50-m surveys followed by debris cleanup and removal. Features in our database included material, quantity, item, brand, and condition. Over 6000 pieces of debris were recorded in GIS for further analysis, and 299 gal of debris were removed from the shores of Belize. The most abundant form of debris observed was plastic (commonly bottles) across all locations; plastic comprised 77.6 % of all debris items observed. Through GIS, a detailed snapshot understanding of debris patterns across multiple settings in Belize was documented. Ongoing collaborations with local organizations in Belize have demonstrated significant interest and utility for such GIS approaches in analyzing and managing marine debris. The data, methodology, visual representations, and online mapping platform resulting from this research are a first step in directly supporting local Belizean community advocacy and policy, while contributing to larger institutional strategies for addressing marine debris issues in the Caribbean.
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Mapping marine debris across coastal communities in Belize:
developing a baseline for understanding the distribution
of litter on beaches using geographic information systems
Paulita Bennett-Martin &Christy C. Visaggi &
Timothy L. Hawthorne
Received: 29 December 2015 / Accepted: 24 August 2016 /Published online: 10 September 2016
#Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
Abstract Monitoring of marine debris (also known as
marine litter) is an essential step in the process to eradi-
cate ecological dangers in marine ecosystems caused by
humans. This study examines marine debris in the
Caribbean country of Belize using geographic informa-
tion systems (GIS) to develop (1) a detailed data library
for use on handheld Global Positioning System (GPS)
units and tablets with mobile mapping applications for
deployment in the field and (2) a freely available, online
mapping portal to share data with Belizeans to encourage
future citizen science efforts. Four diverse communities
were targeted ranging from larger more populated towns,
to smaller villages across central and southern Belize:
San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Punta Gorda, and Monkey
River. Fieldwork was conducted over 1 month, during
which data points were collected in 50-m surveys follow-
ed by debris cleanup and removal. Features in our data-
base included material, quantity, item, brand, and condi-
tion. Over 6000 pieces of debris were recorded in GIS for
further analysis, and 299 gal of debris were removed
from the shores of Belize. The most abundant form of
debris observed was plastic (commonly bottles) across all
locations; plastic comprised 77.6 % of all debris items
observed. Through GIS, a detailed snapshot understand-
ing of debris patterns across multiple settings in Belize
was documented. Ongoing collaborations with local or-
ganizations in Belize have demonstrated significant in-
terest and utility for such GIS approaches in analyzing
and managing marine debris. The data, methodology,
visual representations, and online mapping platform
resulting from this research are a first step in directly
supporting local Belizean community advocacy and pol-
icy, while contributing to larger institutional strategies for
addressing marine debris issues in the Caribbean.
Keywords Beach litter .Belize .Caribbean .Central
America .GIS .Marine debris
Introduction and background
Scope of work
The prevalence of anthropogenic litter in marine habitats
is unsightly, environmentally destructive, and, yet, a
potentially manageable problem (e.g., Sheavly and
Register 2007;Slavinetal.2012; Gall and Thompson
2015; Jambeck et al. 2015). Challenges in studying
marine debris include having a baseline understand-
ing of litter composition, concentrations, and
sources necessary for addressing local impacts of this
Environ Monit Assess (2016) 188: 557
DOI 10.1007/s10661-016-5544-4
P. Bennett-Martin (*)
Honors College, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
e-mail: paulitabennettmartin@gmail.com
P. Bennett-Martin :C. C. Visaggi
Department of Geosciences, Georgia State University, Atlanta,
GA, USA
P. Bennett-Martin
Laney Graduate School, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
T. L. Hawthorne
Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida, Orlando,
FL, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Clean-up and citizen science activities remove litter while educating the public and raising awareness on the issue of marine litter (Matthews and Doyle, 2012). Previous beach litter studies in the region reported on average > 75% of macrolitter was comprised of plastic, with plastic bottles being the most prevalent item (Bennett-Martin et al., 2016). Prior studies looking at microplastics in Belize have focused on seagrasses and the potential for microplastics to enter the food chain (Goss et al., 2018), as well as coral tissues (Oldenburg et al., 2021) with, to the best of our knowledge, no previous studies reporting on the presence and abundance of microplastics in Belizean river sediments. ...
... Previous studies in the region reported that the majority of debris collected comprised of plastic (Bennett- Martin et al., 2016;Blanke, 2020), which is comparable with the results presented in this study. On average, across all monitoring location types and time-points, 77.3% by count of all macro and meso litter items collected were plastic, compared to 77.6 and 68.1% reported by Bennett-Martin et al. (2016) and Blanke (2020), respectively. ...
... Previous studies in the region reported that the majority of debris collected comprised of plastic (Bennett- Martin et al., 2016;Blanke, 2020), which is comparable with the results presented in this study. On average, across all monitoring location types and time-points, 77.3% by count of all macro and meso litter items collected were plastic, compared to 77.6 and 68.1% reported by Bennett-Martin et al. (2016) and Blanke (2020), respectively. A clear difference between the river surveys and those on the coast was that the river surveys had far lower numbers of plastic items, in particular fragments, and the top items were broken glass and metal bottle caps. ...
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... Absent municipal or privately-owned waste disposal services, residents' resort to using landfills, unregulated dump piles, burning of waste, or direct disposal into rivers (Lu et al., 2013). Bennett-Martin et al. (2016) detailed how Punta Gorda Town, located in the Toledo District, was inundated beyond quantification with marine debris. Dump sites similar to those found by Bennett-Martin et al. (2016) were also visible along some beaches surveyed here. ...
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY PURPOSE OF THIS REPORT Plastic waste that ends up in the oceans as marine litter is a tangible and urgent environmental pressure reaching even the most remote parts of the global oceans. It impacts marine life from plankton to whales and turtles to albatrosses. Public awareness on how the modern lifestyle and the use of plastics in all sectors of society has influenced the marine ecosystems in the last decades is growing, and an emerging discourse about countermeasures of all types can be seen in policies enacted by authorities in national, regional, and international policy arenas. Different coastal areas have launched Regional Action Plans (RAP) on marine litter that provide structured measures that need to be taken and general advice adapted to the respective region. However, the scale of the problem is not only global in dimension, it also cuts across all sectors in society, and until the use of materials in society becomes sustainable, plastic waste will continues to flow into the seas. This report focuses on how marine plastic litter affects Small Island Developing States (SIDS) because these are considered to be more directly vulnerable to environmental changes, including marine litter, than other countries. This report was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water management and written by analysts at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment (affiliated with the University of Gothenburg, Lund University, and Chalmers University of Technology). In this report, it is documented how marine plastic litter reaches even the most remote parts of the oceans, such as some of the small island states, and how SIDS are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts such as climate change and marine litter. 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In places where people lack food, clean water, shelter, etc., these basic human needs are of immediate priority. In the long term marine litter might become a vital human problem and should be combated, but not at the expense of other development goals. However, several measures for marine litter mitigation foster other goals as well, so positive synergies can occur here. ORIGINS AND COMPOSITION OF MARINE PLASTIC LITTER Marine debris and marine litter are used synonymously in this report and are defined as “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material that is discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine or coastal environment”.(1) Because plastic, a persistent and potentially hazardous pollutant, is commonly reported to make up most marine debris, the focus of this report is on plastic litter. Marine plastic litter that is washed ashore on SIDS originates from both distant countries overseas and the SIDS themselves. At sea, plastic materials degrade slowly and do not readily mineralise; instead, they break down in into ever-smaller fragments over time, which persist in the marine environment. Buoyant plastic litter is globally distributed by ocean currents and is found washed ashore on beach lines around the globe where it negatively impacts ecological and human systems both in the open water and on the coast. Plastics end up in the marine environment through leaks from the global value chains that run from the oil industry through various other industries to local retailers and consumers. The plastic materials are lost from production to disposal through transport, production, use, waste collection, and waste treatment. In the environment, the very same qualities of lightness and resistance that make them attractive to producers and consumers turn them into a nuisance for other species. A smaller but significant stream of plastic litter follows from the difficulties of many SIDS to establish and maintain efficient waste management systems. Like most if not all countries in the world, SIDS face the challenge of an increasing generation of waste due to the combined result of economic growth, increased population, growing urbanisation, and changes in consumption patterns. “As the urban population of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) continues to grow significantly, the need for extensive waste management systems has likewise increased. Given SIDS’ limited land areas, and landfills acting as the primary method of waste, their capacity to manage waste leaves them at risk to potential environmental damage and public health risks.”(2) IMPACT OF MACRO- AND MICROPLASTIC LITTER ON ECOLOGICAL, SOCIAL, AND ECONOMIC VALUES Marine litter has been shown to have negative environmental, social, and economic consequences. 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For marine plastic litter in particular, mitigation implies improved control and management of plastics, which limits leakages into the oceans, whereas remediation is the removal of marine plastic litter from the environment. For plastic litter that reaches SIDS, both remediation and mitigation, especially through waste management and recycling, become necessary. LEGAL AND POLITICAL FRAMEWORKS The legal framework for preventing and managing marine litter is present on all levels of governance, from international to national and local rules and regulations, and it can be found within many areas of law and with different types of legal effects. Global agreements that aim at the protection of ecosystems and marine species and biodiversity are highly related to the issue of marine litter. Apart from binding agreements, there are a number of declarations and recommendations relevant to marine litter on SIDS. One of them is the SAMOA Pathway, a declaration made at the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014, which calls for measures to manage waste, including marine plastic litter. Multilateral agreements require party states to take actions, but because these requirements are often generally formulated, their achievements depend on the choices and participation of all parties. POLICY MEASURES PROPOSED BY REGIONAL ACTION PLANS There exist 18 Regional Seas programmes under the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). The aim of this programme is to protect the marine environment through a shared approach across state borders where neighbouring countries work together for the protection of the oceans and seas. Some of the Regional Seas programmes have written strategies to guide actions and efforts against marine litter. Supported by UNEP, the member governments of the respective region agreed on a political agenda for the management of marine litter, the RAPs. The contents of different action plans show strong similarities, commonly including measures of legislation, best practise, best techniques, education/awareness, and voluntary agreements. The analyses conducted here show that most measures suggested by RAPs are aimed at downstream processes (i.e. when the material has already escaped controlled material flows), while fewer measures address the problem upstream. Therefore, additional projects and measures are necessary to solve such a global problem. VOLUNTARY AND COMMERCIAL INITIATIVES Plastic litter is a problem that comes from numerous sources and affects many parts of society. While the important role of government agencies in solving the problem is evident, marine litter is not only a matter of management or government, but also of governance. Governance takes place in networks, is typically multilateral, and requires collaboration. Single actors can- not address the issue of plastic marine litter, and what is needed is an array of actions, from the local to the global level, that tackle the issue in a coordinated manner. Most of the measures suggested in RAPs and the current work against marine litter involve not only government managers, but also businesses, NGOs, and voluntary initiatives. RECOMMENDATION: IMPORTANT AREAS FOR FUTURE COOPERATION To conclude, there is much work to be done on SIDS to solve the problem of marine litter. Competence and enthusiasm for the issue on SIDS as well as elsewhere is growing, but there is still a long way to go. The issue cannot be solved nationally or even regionally alone, and solutions will require international cooperation. Four recommendations for cooperation are highlighted here, and these might be especially valuable for SIDS and other developing countries: 1. Prevent litter from entering the ocean and thus reaching SIDS: Support cooperation in regional and international agreements 2. Plastic material that reaches SIDS should not be released into the environment: Technical cooperation and support for local waste management 3. If waste reaches the environment, collect it where appropriate: Support beach clean-up campaigns and other remediation measures 4. When waste has been collected, ensure that is has a value: Develop recycling markets and opportunities FOOTNOTES (1) UNEP, 2009. Marine Litter: A Global Challenge. Nairobi: UNEP. 232 pp. (2) UN-DESA (2016). SIDS ACTION PLATFORM, 18 SAMOA pathway priority areas. Management of Chemicals and Waste, including Hazardous Waste. From: A/CONF.223/10. Retrieved 2017-03-16, from http://www.sids2014.org/partnerships/?area=11
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For centuries humans have indiscriminantly discarded their waste into, and on the mar-gins of, oceans, lakes, and rivers. Seafarers traditionally disposed their garbage by simply heaving it overboard, and the practice continues to this day despite international agreements such as the London Dumping Convention (LDC) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). When quantities of mostly (bio) degradable waste were low, environmental and other consequences remained minimal. However, the advent of nondegradable synthetic materials has had profound biological and environmental effects (Laist 1987; Laist, Chapter 8, this volume) on shores and in oceanic and coastal surface waters (Pruter 1987a).
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Marine debris directly threatens and indirectly impacts upon marine wildlife and humans throughout the world. Proper management requires information on debris abundance, distribution and sources for specific regions. This data was previously unavailable for the Greater Sydney Region, Australia. Thus, a marine debris survey was conducted on six selected beaches from the Greater Sydney Region. Two beaches from each of three areas with differing degrees of urbanisation were sampled once a month for five months. Sampling was conducted from within a series of transects, zones and strata to obtain information on the abundance, distribution, composition and sources of debris. On average sampled beaches had 33.3 items per 250m2 transect equating to 2,664 items per kilometre of beach with a 20m wide cross-shore sub-aerial zone. The vast majority (89.8%) of debris found was plastic, particularly hard plastic (52.3%) predominantly originating from stormwater or beachgoers. The beaches with the highest debris density were those within the least urbanised area, possibly due to the relatively small distance (<50km) between sample areas and the ability of debris to disperse quickly from its source and travel long distances. Significant differences in debris abundance were found between sample areas, beaches, beach strata and over time. The abundance of marine debris within the Greater Sydney Region was comparable to some of the most polluted beaches around the world, and is thus a problem that requires immediate attention.
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Marine debris is listed among the major perceived threats to biodiversity, and is cause for particular concern due to its abundance, durability and persistence in the marine environment. An extensive literature search reviewed the current state of knowledge on the effects of marine debris on marine organisms. 340 original publications reported encounters between organisms and marine debris and 693 species. Plastic debris accounted for 92% of encounters between debris and individuals. Numerous direct and indirect consequences were recorded, with the potential for sublethal effects of ingestion an area of considerable uncertainty and concern. Comparison to the IUCN Red List highlighted that at least 17% of species affected by entanglement and ingestion were listed as threatened or near threatened. Hence where marine debris combines with other anthropogenic stressors it may affect populations, trophic interactions and assemblages. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.