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Marine litter monitoring:
review for the Gulf of Finland coast
Tatjana Eremina*1, Alexandra Ershova1, Georg Martin2, Mikhail Shilin1
1 – Russian State Hydrometorological University (RSHU), St. Petersburg, Russia, ul. Voronezhskaya, 79.
2 - University of Tartu, Estonian Marine Institute, Tartu, Estonia, L.Puusepa 8, 51014.
Abstract Marine litter pollution is now becoming a growing issue for the coastal regions, in particular for enclosed and
highly populated water bodies, like the Baltic Sea. The metropolitan area of St.Petersburg together with the Leningrad
Oblast produces annually about 112 000 tons of plastic wastes. Due to no centralized system of plastic litter separation and
treatment all wastes are stored in landfills, with much of it eventually finding its way to the adjacent waters (rivers, lakes
and the sea) and migrating through the borders. Great amount of litter is accumulated on the beaches of the Gulf of
Finland. At the same time the water area of the Gulf can serve itself as a source of beach pollution by plastic particles
released from bottom sediments during repeated dredging works in the Neva Bay. The plastic litter problem has never
been investigated for the Russian sector of the Gulf and also requires joint efforts from the neighbor countries (Estonia).
The study presents a review of marine macrolitter monitoring methods for the beaches of the Eastern part of the Gulf of
Finland. For now there is no single method elaborated for beach monitoring of marine litter for European water bodies.
Based on the results of recent studies in the central part of the Baltic, analysis of beach and coast types in the Russian part
of the Gulf of Finland, and results of public monitoring campaigns the most suitable method is discussed to be tested in
summer 2018 in several urban and rural spots along the coastline of the Neva estuary, the Kurortny District and the
Southern coast of the Gulf.
Marine litter, much of which is plastic, is found in marine and coastal habitats throughout the world, washed ashore,
floating or accumulating on the seafloor. Significant surface accumulation zones occur in subtropical oceanic gyres (for example,
the Eastern Garbage Patch in the Northern Pacific Gyre) and are sometimes also referred to as a “plastic soup” of waste [3, 14].
Over 6 million tonnes of litter is disposed in the seas annually and no decrease in that amount is predicted to take place in the near
future, and a substantial part of that flow is made of plastic . Ecosystems of enclosed seas such as the Baltic Sea with the high
anthropogenic load can be especially vulnerable to accumulations of plastic particles along the coast, in lagoons and estuaries.
The sources of marine litter are mainly land-based and are associated with poor waste management including littering,
wastewater and rain drainage management. In European seas over 60 % of all marine litter is plastic packaging, predominantly
plastic bottles and bags . Recent studies show that almost half of marine litter in the Baltic Sea is coming from household-
related waste and litter generated by recreational or tourism activities makes more than a third . Previous assessments show
that in the Baltic Sea the main sources are considered to include transport, fisheries, household activities, as well as coastal
recreation and tourism . Beach litter accumulation is now the most studied in this region as compared to plastics distribution
in water and at the seafloor, however, the methods for an adequate and harmonized assessment of the distribution and sources of
marine litter are still under development.
The Gulf of Finland is a water area shared by the three countries (Fig. 1): Finland, Russia and Estonia and is one of the
most unique and fragile ecosystems in the Baltic Sea due to its special hydrophysical and geomorphological characteristics and
pronounced estuarine effects, caused by the inflow of the largest Baltic river – the Neva, with the average annual discharge of
2500 m3/s. It is a shallow and brackish ecosystem with a low but unique biodiversity. The intense anthropogenic activity in the
highly populated area around the Gulf of Finland is the reason of its main environmental problems: eutrophication, oil and
hazardous substances pollution, underwater landscape degradation due to dredging and resources extraction, etc. making this
ecosystem very sensitive to the growing human impact. Marine litter pollution of this area has now become a new focus of
St.Petersburg is the largest city in the North-West of Russia at the easternmost tip of the Gulf of Finland with over 5 200
000 of permanent residents according to the official information . Large area of the Russian Gulf of Finland coast is situated in
the Leningrad Region with a total number of permanent residents over 1 900 000 people . High population density creates a
significant pressure on the Gulf’s environment.
At the same time the plastic litter problem has never been investigated for the Russian sector of the Gulf of Finland. Thus,
the aim of this work was to analyze the state of the problem of marine litter pollution of the coasts of the Eastern Gulf of Finland,
to allocate the areas for summer monitoring in 2018 and to discuss the most appropriate monitroing methods for different types of
beaches taking into acount the existing experience of marine litter monitoring in the Baltic lagoons and estuaries, as well as
neighbouring Estonian coasts.
Figure 1 – The Gulf of Finland.
GEOMORPHOLOGIC FEATURES OF COASTS OF THE EASTERN PART OF THE GULF OF FINLAND
The coastline of the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland is very diverse and was formed by subaerial and tectonic processes
(skerries), non-marine processes (alluvial plains), by waves (marine erosion, accretion, abrasion coasts) as well as technogenic
processes (embankments, hydrotechnical constructions, etc.) .
The northern coast of the Russian part of the Eastern Gulf of Finland in the Vyborg Bay area from Finnish-Russian
boundary to Beriozovy Archipelago is represented by skerries. The most wide spread coast type is represented by erosion coasts
with bays (Fig. 2). It is characterized by boulder benches in near-shore zone and erosion escarps on-land. Within small bays
pocket sandy beaches are usually formed. Another type of typical coasts is sand accretion areas with wide (50-150 m) stable
sandy beaches that are located in Narva Bay on the southern coast and in front of Sestroretsk town in the northern part of the Gulf.
Some parts of the eastern Gulf of Finland coastal zone, such as the granite and glacial till skerries of the northern coast (between
Primorsk town and the Russian-Finnish border) or in large bays (Luga Bay, Koporsky Bay) of the southern coast, are relatively
stable. About 40% of the coast, however, is characterized by the intense development. The most active erosion processes occur in
the coastal zone of the easternmost part of the Gulf - which is the most valuable recreation area. The easternmost part of the
coastline within the Neva River mouth is completely transformed by the technogenic processes .
Figure 2 – Typical coast types for the Eastern Gulf of Finland. A – zone of stable sand accumulation (northern coast near
Solnechnoe); b – abrasion moraine (boulder) coast type (northern coast near Repino) 
In terms of the recreation potential the most visited sandy beaches of the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland are located in
the Kurortny District (northern coast) and near Peterhof and Lomonosov area (southern coast). Also, long sandy beaches are
found further south in the Narva Bay, but due to their remoteness they are not so popular among the local residents.
Kurortny District hosts 12 the most popular and visited public beaches in the region that are regularly cleaned by the
municipal services (major cleaning before each summer season and then waste is removed twice a day in summer) . However,
there are a lot of so called “wild” beaches in between, that are cleaned randomly throughout the season due to inability of the
municipal services to cover the entire 60 km long coastal strip in this district.
SOURCES OF PLASTIC WASTES IN THE REGION
Consumer wastes in Russia make about 85 % of all polymer wastes in the country . In Russia in general waste
recycling industry is still under development: only 5 % of wastes are recycled, 10 % is transferred to landfills that comply with
environmental standards, and the rest 85 % are stored in landfills that do not provide ecological safety.
The metropolitan area of St.Petersburg together with the Leningrad Oblast produces annually about 112 000 tons of plastic
wastes including municipal and industrial wastes . Only about 5 000 citizens (less than 0,1 % of city population) sort their
household plastic wastes taking part in the monthly events of a volunteer organization “Razdel’nyi sbor” (transl. from Russian
“Separate collection”) . There is still neither normative base for the separate waste collection in the region, nor the will of
administration. And waste recycling is just not profitable for local waste handling organizations . Thus, much of the wastes
stored in landfills eventually finds its way to the adjacent waters (rivers, lakes and the sea) and migrates through the borders.
An important source of plastic litter in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland before the construction of the Flood
Protection Barrier of St. Petersburg (FPB) was a network of waterways in St. Petersburg and suburbs including over 220 rivers,
canals and streams of various length, as well as reservoirs. From the start of FPB operation there is a constant threat of
accumulation of floating litter on the east side of the dam. In order to eliminate this threat constant cleaning works have been
carried out in St. Petersburg . In winter, the collection of litter from ice is carried out manually, or, in case of a weak ice cover -
with the use of amphibian all-terrain vehicle. In summer, manual cleaning of plastic litter is carried out non-navigable and drying
areas of the water area. In navigable watercourses boats and pontoons have been used. Maintenance cleaning area in the winter
period is approx. 3 365 thous. m2 , in the summer - approx. 3 330 thous. m2. Over 1000 m3 of floating litter is transported
annually to landfills, containing mainly plastics.
Altogether 32 rivers and channels were covered by the bottom-cleaning projects in 2000–2015. About 8 900 items
(including concrete, rail-tracks, timber etc.) were collected from the rivers and channels in 2013–2015. A total of 44 illegal dump
sites in St. Petersburg were found and removed in 2013–2015 . Outside the city limits floating plastic litter accumulates in the
regulated watercourses of the Leningrad region, first of all - in the rivers Izhora and Izhora reservoir (Kolpino district). In the
vicinity of the Izhorskiy dam the moving litter mass takes the form of "islands" with a total area of up to 6000 m2. "Islands" are
towed to shallow water and stored at specially designated areas of the coastal zone and then are exported for disposal to landfills
. Entering the water environment the litter is eventually accumulated and buried on the muddy seafloor of the Neva Bay, but
can be released again during the permanent dredging works in the Neva Bay and near harbors of St. Petersburg. This can serve as
a secondary source of litter pollution that enters the environment and reaches the coasts after storm events. Water pollution by
plastic particles that can come from the disturbed seafloor is proved by the results of regular summer monitoring of RSHU. The
preliminary study showed that all water samples taken in the Neva Bay in July 2017 for phytoplankton analysis also contained
microplastics, even those located far from the coast and the city. Some photos of microplastics particles are shown on Figure 3.
MARINE LITTER MONITORING METHODS FOR BEACHES
Marine litter is usually classified by the size: “macrolitter” - particles > 25 mm in diameter, “mesolitter” - 5 to 25 mm, and
“microlitter” - < 5 mm [13, 21]. Macrolitter is the most visible for human eye on beaches or floating on the surface thus there is
yet much more information on macrolitter campaigns and monitoring. Some data on the amounts of litter on the coasts of the
Baltic Sea is available already from the late 20th century. This information is based on campaigns carried out by various non-
governmental organizations or on observations by coastal municipalities. It is not, however, possible to quantitatively compare
the results between the campaigns because different methods have been used for collecting litter and estimating their amounts. It
also very important to select the most representative beaches for the campaign considering meteorological (storm events
frequency), hydrographical and geomorphology processes.
Figure 3 - Microplastics in water samples taken in summer 2017 during RSHU regular monitoring in the Neva Bay. Green color –
blue-green algae, dark blue and brown – microplastics particles
(photos by Eugenia Lange, P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, RAS)
European methods of marine litter monitoring on beaches
The methodology of marine litter monitoring in Europe and North-East Atlantic in particular is developed and documented
in Marine Strategy Framework Directive Guidance  and OSPAR Guidelines [16, 17].
MSFD Guidance  recommends choosing beaches for survey so they are subject to different litter exposures, namely
urban coasts that reflect the contribution of land-based inputs; rural coasts that serve as background for litter pollution levels and
coasts close to major rivers, to reflect the contribution of riverine input to coastal litter pollution. The following
recommendations are given for selection of the beach monitoring site: a minimum length of 100m, low to moderate slope (15 –
45º), clear access to the sea, ideally the site should not be subject to any other litter collection activities. At least 2 sections of
100m on the same beach are recommended for monitoring purposes on lightly to moderately littered beaches and at least 2
sections of 50 m for heavily littered beaches. At present there is no agreed statistical method for recommending a minimum
number of sites that may be representative for a certain length of coast. At least four surveys per year in spring, summer, autumn
and winter are recommended.
The OSPAR monitoring guidelines  are largely used in Europe and ensure that recent data is comparable. The method
is based on manual picking up of litter on the beaches according to a common, standardized survey protocol for either a 100-
metre (where the physical characteristics of the coast allow) or 1-km stretch of beach. The 100-metre sites are located within the
1-kilometre areas. The protocol for 100-metre surveys includes well over 100 different items of all sizes, whereas the protocol for
1-km surveys has included about 20 mainly large items (>50 cm in any direction).
According to the OSPAR methodology the beaches should be composed of sand or gravel and exposed to the open sea; be
accessible to surveyors all year round; be a minimum length of 100 meters and if possible over 1 km in length; be free of
‘buildings’ all year round; and ideally not be subject to any other litter collection activities. The reference beaches are surveyed 4
times a year (when weather permits). This method is also accepted by HELCOM as a common methodology for monitoring of
beach litter in the Baltic Sea and described in the Recommendation 29/2  in order to achieve comparable results.
The European method for beach litter monitoring was adapted for the Baltic Sea German coast at the Leibniz Institute for
Baltic Sea Research (Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde, IOW) [9, 20]. There, several special instruments for
litter collection were developed – a sand rake and a frame. The Rake-method and the Frame-method focus on large-micro
(>2 mm) and meso-litter (5–25 mm) in the 30–50 mm upper sediment layer and were applied at 58 surveys at 15 sandy beaches
of the German and Lithuanian Baltic Sea coast between 2014 and 2016. Mostly found were cigarette butts, artificial polymers and
paraffin in Lithuania. Both methods turned out to be suitable for sandy beaches, even if they are regular cleaned, and to assess
pollution hot-spots. Both methods do not require elaborated equipment or a laboratory, are low in costs and can be carried out by
The Sand rake method in contrast to OSPAR method is applied vertically between the water line and the vegetation line
along the whole width of the beach. The entire transect is divided on 5 m segments that are then sieved individually area of 2,5m².
For the most beaches; for getting reliable results two or three 0,5 m wide stripes will be sufficient to reach the minimum area of
50m2 or the total amount of litter found in all segments not less than 20 items, however at some beaches more stripes are needed.
If two or more replicate samples taken there must be at least 120m distance between the samples points to ensure that the rake
sampling procedure fits to the 100m distances as recommended for the selected point approach by OSPAR (Fig. 4).
Figure 4 - The shape of the monitoring area for the Sand Rake Method. Shown are two replicates regarding the sand rake method
(oriented vertically along the beach width) and two replicates regarding the OSPAR Monitoring Method (oriented horizontally
along the beach lengths) [9, 20].
The Baltic beaches of Kaliningrad region, Russia were studied for the first time during the monitoring campaigns in 2015
and 2016 . However, this study focused primarily on microlitter that was investigated in the upper 2 cm of the sandy sediments
of the wrack zone along the coast. The prevailing type of marine litter was paraffin, amber and foamed plastic. No significant
differences in the scale of marine litter pollution were found for beaches with high or low anthropogenic load .
For the Gulf of Finland and Eastern and Central Baltic Areas a joint EU-funded marine litter project MARLIN was carried
out recently by Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. During the project, the amounts of different litter types were assessed on
selected beaches. For the first time around the Baltic Sea area, all the countries collected and categorized the litter using the same
harmonized method based on the protocol of UN Environment Programme on beach litter . Different types of beaches were
investigated during the three ice-free seasons: rural, urban and semi-urban. The results of this project showed that most of the
beach litter in the Gulf of Finland was composed of plastic: 59 % on urban beaches, 50 % on rural beaches, and 53 % on semi-
urban beaches. The amount of litter was highest on the Finnish beaches: urban beaches tended to contain more litter than the rural
ones. The snow melting period affected the accumulation of litter on beaches as well .
Finland and Estonia have continued the monitoring of these beaches in 2014–2015, and Finland has also adopted this
protocol into its national monitoring programme. In Estonia beach litter has been monitored along 5 beaches in the Estonian part
of the Gulf of Finland. Methodology for the beach litter monitoring was based on one developed by UNEP/IOC and modified
according to HELCOM, OSPAR recommendations and applied by MARLIN project .
According to the report of the project the most frequent items found on the beaches were: glass or ceramic fragments
(13%), food containers, candy wrapers (9,1%), bottle caps and lids (8,3 %), plastic bags (6,8%), foam (5,5%), straping (5,0%),
other (4,1%), construction materials (3,9%), bottle caps, lids and pull straps (3,4%), paper (3,15). There was also a significant
variation in the seasonality of beach litter with lowest frequency of occurrence of litter in autumn and highest in spring.
Litter on the seafloor has been monitored once in 2017 at 15 sites along the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland
(mainland and islands of Vormsi and Hiiumaa) . Methodology used was developed specially for the campaign to investigate
the amount of litter on the seafloor in the depth interval of 0-15 m. Methodology included combination of SCUBA diving and
underwater video recording (by “drop” cameras and ROVs) applying both grid based sampling and transect method. Observations
were carried out in both impacted areas (harbours, marinas, rivermouths) and reference sites (sites away from direct human
impact. The study revealed the relatively high occurrence of different types of litter in impacted sites and very low occurrence of
the macrolitter on reference sites. In the impacted sites the highest frequency was observed for metal (46% of findings), wood
(14%) and unidentified items (11%). Plastic objects counted only to 9% of the findings in impacted sites. During the same
campaign the beach sampling was performed at the same locations and here the structure of litter was totally different where the
plastic items dominated (64%).
As for the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland, no deep scientific research on marine litter in this area has been carried out
yet. Several beach cleaning campaigns were organized in 2013–2015 by the St.Petersburg Administration and local municipalities
to increase awareness of marine litter issues amongst the citizens. It was found out that most of marine litter found in the urban
coastal areas is in one way or another originating from local residents / households .
Public monitoring campaigns organized by the NGO “Friends of the Baltic” in 2014-2016 used the simplified version of
OSPAR methodology for marine litter monitoring (Fig. 5). Campaigns were held the Kurortny district on the northern coast of the
Gulf and showed general interest of the citizens to the issue.
In order to promote the scientific monitoring activities on the coast of the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland it is
necessary to allocate the most appropriate and representative sites for marine litter beach monitoring and to find the method that
will allow to adequately assess the state of marine litter coastal pollution in this region and at the same time will give the
opportunity to compare the monitoring results with other coasts of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic region in general.
Figure 5 –Types macrolitter found on the coasts of the Russian Gulf of Finland during the NGO “Friends of the Baltic”
public beach monitoring campaigns
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The Baltic Sea in general and the Gulf of Finland in particular show properties that differ significantly from the North
Sea/Atlantic region. Thus, the OSPAR methodology suitability for the Gulf of Finland area needs to be evaluated. Beach
cleanings and a lack of long distance transport from oceans explain the relatively low numbers of beach litter here compared to
the North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean . At the same time, the enclosed lagoon-type bays here serve as accumulation zone for
some types of litter. As shown in Estonian case study  the structure of litter on the beach and deeper in the water (nearcoastal
seafloor) can be very different. This is mostly due to the different origin of the litter but also due to the different physical
properties of the litter. Most of the floating litter is washed ashore (mostly plastic, paper etc.) and but more heavier items sink to
the bottom in locations they enter marine environment. Also the areas with heavy human impact, as harbours, tend to accumulate
the different types of litter.
The Russian part of the Gulf of Finland has a ragged and very long coastline over 900 km long . The coast types are
different in its northern and southern parts. Only a small part of the total coastline represent the zones of stable sand
accumulation. Rocky coasts with skerries and closed small pocket beaches in the Vyborg Bay do not fulfill the OSPAR criteria
for a suitable monitoring beach. So, only sandy beaches of the Kurortny District (about 14 km) on the northern coast and areas
near Peterhof, Lomonosov and Narva Bay (about 18 km) are potentially suitable for beach monitoring. However, these beaches
vary by recreational load and intensity of beach cleanings. Also in the Eastern Gulf of Finland tourism/beach visitors always
plays the main role in seasonal litter pollution.
So in this region the marine litter beach monitoring methods developed and unified by German colleagues will be applied
at selected sites in order to contribute to the international database of marine litter monitoring data in the Baltic Sea region.
A comprehensive study of marine litter pollution of the Baltic lagoons and estuaries and a compilation of international
database is foreseen in frames of the new international project «Litter rim of the Baltic coast: monitoring, impact and
remediation” funded by the Programme ERA.Net Rus Plus started in 2018. This will imply the use of a unified method,
developed and adapted by German colleagues from IOW, and a common monitoring protocol. So, one of the study regions
selected for this purpose in the Russian side of the Gulf of Finland will be the coasts of the Neva river estuary, that is separated
from the open area of the Gulf by the Flood Protection Barrier, i.e. is an almost enclosed water body receiving the Neva river
waters. At the same time, the coasts outside the dam will also be monitored (coasts of Kronshtadt, northern and southern coasts
of the Gulf), that will allow to compare the marine litter pollution levels inside and outside the Neva Bay. In order to make
monitoring more representative public and “wild” beaches will be selected for monitoring in summer 2018 to assess the litter
load from beach visitors and urban areas. For this purpose the most appropriate are the highly visited beaches in summer of the
Kurortny District and remote sandy beaches on the southern coast, where the Narva Bay area represents the type of beaches
with little human disturbances. When selecting the specific location of monitoring sites practical and cost-effectiveness aspects
should to be taken into consideration, because it is important that the monitoring can be carried out over decades, so the main
criteria will be the accessibility by the main roads.
The analysis of the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland region showed that high population density in this region together
with production of large amounts of plastic wastes pose a high risk of marine litter pollution. However, due to the absence of any
regular monitoring activities here it is not possible to give a quantitative estimate of beach litter pollution levels. Analysis of the
most wide-spread monitoring methods showed that they all are not universal and their applicability is determined by the types of
coasts, their geomorphological characteristics, beach recreational properties and their allocation to urban/suburban/rural type.
Russian coast of the Gulf of Finland in general is characterized by the limited amount of suitable sandy beaches
according to recommendations of MSFD and OSPAR (without regular cleaning, exposed sandy beaches without vegetation,
little tourism). So, in order to make an assessment of litter pollution in most of the accessible parts of the coastline of the
Russian part of the Gulf of Finland a German approach will be used for different types of beaches for at least 12 monitoring
spots along the Gulf of Finland coastline in summer 2018. Data collected will be included in the Baltic Sea marine litter
database for lagoons and estuaries and urban and suburban beaches. Based on the obtained results general recommendations for
the national programme of marine litter monitoring will be developed for the Russian coasts of the Eastern part of the Gulf of
Finland, harmonized with the international monitoring programmes in the Baltic region.
The Russian authors of this work were supported by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (18-55-76001 ЭРА_а) and
Estonian author, Georg Martin by the Programme ERA.Net Rus Plus – Science&Technology, RUS_ST2017-429 (“BalticLitter”
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